I’m happy to introduce a project we’ve been working on for quite a while.

fountain fileFountain lets you write screenplays in any text editor on any device, from computers to iPads to smartphones. It’s as simple as we could make it, which is what makes it so useful.  

Fountain files are just text. We use a straightforward syntax to indicate what’s what — character names are uppercase, transitions end in “TO:”, and so on.

On the page, Fountain feels like a screenplay. When you’re ready for formatting, helper apps do the work of adding margins and page breaks.

Screenwriters can use Fountain for writing scripts, but it’s also ideal for archiving.

Because they’re just text, Fountain files are basically future-proof. You’ll be able to open and edit them 100 years from now. You can’t say the same for .fdr, .mmsw or most of the other proprietary formats. And while .pdfs maintain formatting, they’re nearly impossible to edit.

Why Fountain

Fountain gets its name from Fountain Ave., the famous Hollywood shortcut.1

We see Fountain as a path rather than a destination. It’s not an app. It’s not even really a file format. It’s a way of getting from a jumble of words to a screenplay.

If you’re familiar with Markdown, this is the screenwriting equivalent. That’s no coincidence; I actually exchanged my first emails with Markdown’s creator, John Gruber, way back in 2004.

I wrote:

I’d like to have a Markdown-like syntax for formatting text documents into screenplay form. This way, writers who wanted to use their favorite text editor could still generate well-formatted scripts.

Good ideas sometimes sit around for a while.

In 2008, Nima Yousefi and I built a modest implementation called Scrippets, which we released as a plug-in for WordPress and other platforms. Scrippets made it easy to insert small bits of screenplay-like material in blog posts and forums, but it was never intended for full-length screenplays. 2

Credit for the full spec goes to Stu Maschwitz, who developed a similar-but-different format called SPMD (Screenplay Markdown). Recognizing that duplicated effort is wasted effort, we’ve spent the past few months merging the standards to what it is today.

Fountain shares a lot of its syntax with Scrippets,3 but we really rethought everything in order to accommodate a range of writing situations and styles. It’s been a process of balancing philosophical consistency (no symbols) with practical concerns (centering titles). Through it all, Stu’s vision and vigilance moved this from being a good idea to an actual thing.

Fountain has benefitted from its many fathers, including me, Stu, Nima, Martin Vilcans, Brett Terpstra, Jonathan Poritsky, Clinton Torres and Ryan Nelson.

Using Fountain

You can write Fountain in any text editor on nearly any device, from an iPad to a Commodore-64. If you can get a text file out of it — even an email — you’re Fountain-ready.

In its raw state, Fountain is great for first drafts. It’s terrific for collaborating with a writing partner on Google Docs. It’s also incredibly handy to be able to write scenes anywhere.

Ultimately, screenwriters will use another app to finish formatting their scripts. Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter don’t explicitly support Fountain — yet both import the files remarkably well. (That’s why it’s great being a plain text file.) If you feel like writing in Fountain, you don’t have to wait for new apps…

…but they’re coming. Today, we’re announcing the format spec and an SDK so developers can add Fountain to their applications. The format is free and open-source. We want to see an ecosystem of apps and services that handle Fountain.

The road ahead

Back when we announced FDX Reader, I got a lot of emails asking, “When are you going to make a screenwriting app?”

Answer: Today. My hope is that we just made a thousand. Fountain turns every text editor into a screenwriting app.

To me, calls for a “Final Draft killer” are hugely misguided. Professional screenwriters will always need apps that can do the heavy lifting when it comes to production: revisions, locked pages, colored pages, etc. The big apps do this well.

But the tools should match the job. Google Docs is much better at collaboration than a dedicated screenwriting app will ever be. Power users of Vim should be able to write in their custom environment.

Fountain is meant to be generally useful. I’m excited to see how it becomes specifically useful to screenwriters in the months and years ahead.

For now, I’d invite you to read Stu Maschwitz’s introduction and then check out the Fountain site.

  1. Asked for advice on the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood, Bette Davis supposedly replied, “Take Fountain.”
  2. Scrippets is also the secret sauce in FDX Reader, which is what got us thinking about how we’d handle things like page breaks and scene numbers.
  3. Indeed, we’ve folded Scrippets into Fountain, and future versions of the plugin will incorporate the revised syntax.