The Writing in Screenwriting

· Joanthan Poritsky

Screenplay formatting has turned out to be one of the most enduring aspects of the filmmaking process. Can you think of anything else in the movie business that looks roughly the same as it did sixty years ago?

Screenwriting software has become a cottage industry. These applications aim to make it dead simple to write a screenplay, moving the onus of formatting out of the heads of writers and into computers. So why do most screenwriting applications suck?

Most of these apps have shifted focus away from writing and instead have become information managers. When was the last time a screenwriting application innovated in how we actually approach writing? Profanity count? Names database? Tagger? Please. We can do better.

My biggest writing fear has always been the blank page. With my iPad and iPhone always at arm’s length, that isn’t as much of an issue anymore. Most of my writings start with random notes I come up with when I’m out, on the subway or, ahem, in dispose. Gone are the days when I sit down at my computer, launch a new blank document and wonder “What am I supposed to do now?”

I moved my workflow to all plain text documents because of their portability. Screenwriters have no such luxury. Final Draft’s FDX format is good, but in order for other applications to use them they must either be exported or rewrapped as something else. It’s impossible to work on the same FDX file in two different applications, while I’m able to work on my text documents in literally dozens of applications. Why should anyone be stuck writing in one application forever?

Stu Maschwitz articulated the solution this past summer when he envisioned Screenplay Markdown:

So the ultimate mobile screenwriting solution may be, for the time being, your favorite among the many lovely Dropbox-based plaintext writing apps out there.

Are other screenwriters as dissatisfied with their workflow as I am? Is there a part of your workflow where you’d give up WYSIWYG and accurate pagination to just get words on the page in a way that freed you from a specific device, and specific software? Or do we expect that Final Draft, Inc.’s promised-but-delayed iPad app will be what we’ve been wanting?

Screenplays haven’t changed in who knows how long, but the needs of writers have. It’s time to turn the act of writing a script into as straightforward and simple a process as writing a note to yourself. That’s why I believe Screenplay Markdown may just take off.