Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scriptwriting 101

For no good reason, I spent about half of the past week writing a script and doing a storyboard to enter a competition. It seemed like a good idea at the time – even though I completely misunderstood what to focus on – but I did brush up my script writing and storyboarding skills along the way; the latter, being almost non-existent!

Microsoft Word script document

Software for scriptwriting
Years ago, I came upon a Word document with text styles in it set up for “standard” movie script format. I don’t remember where I got it, and it is a little broken as I think it was originally produced with Word 5 Mac (or maybe Word 6, I'm not sure!) I hadn’t used it for a while, and when I opened it this time I found that it defaulted to Times instead of Courier, but otherwise it still seems to work.

One of the nice things about it is that it automatically switches from Character to Dialog format and then back to Character each time you hit the return key, so you can quickly enter a sequence of dialog without having to choose a new style. It's especially useful if you’re writing a long sequence of dialog.

If you want a definition of how a movie script should be formatted, you can find one here: Standard Script Format.

And if you want some actual examples of script writing/formatting, you can find them online, and you can even buy scripts of many popular movies, though I’m not sure how useful that is if you want to learn how to write a script. Personally, I’d recommend looking at a few pages from a variety of scripts rather than bothering to read a single script all the way through.

Other Applications
Pretty much any word processor can be used to create a script format document, but if you’re spending all day, everyday writing scripts, you might want to look at something like Final Draft, which not just formats the script, but gives you tools for organizing scenes and outlining your script.

Apple Pages Template Chooser

Interestingly, Apple’s Pages application – part of their iWork package – has a movie script template in it. Again, it doesn't do the kind of things Final Draft does, but for a one-off project it wouldn't be bad.

I thought about giving Pages a try for my script, but I needed to be able to edit the script in multiple locations/computers, and Word is the better choice for that. Still, I like Pages quite a bit, and might be tempted to use it in the future.

Doing It on Your iPhone
When I started writing the script, I first wrote several pages of it on my iPhone (it’s what I had with me at the time!) I used an application called ShapeWriter, which is a text entry application with a different mode of text entry to the standard iPhone keyboard: you start at the first letter of the word you want to enter, and then drag your finger from character to character, “drawing” the shape of the word. It actually works pretty well (though not 100% accuracy) and I find it a much faster/easier way to enter a lot of text on the iPhone compared to typing out the individual letters on the “regular” iPhone keyboard. It’s my favorite application for note taking when a computer isn’t handy.

-there’s a tag line: iPhone; the computer you have when you don’t have a computer.

There's a free version of ShapeWriter, as well as two paid versions.

iPhone applications: ShapeWriter (left), ScriptWrite (right)

Since ShapeWriter lacks text formatting, I still had to import the text into the Word document, and then add styles to get the formatting right.

In the middle of this process, I was intrigued to come across a script writing application available for the iPhone called ScriptWrite. It costs $5. You enter the separate parts of a script (slug, character name, dialog, etc,) by clicking on a menu of icons, then entering the text, then add a new part, choose the type, enter text, and so on. Though the idea of writing a full script on an iPhone is a bit of a head scratcher, I can certainly see it as appealing for those times you have an idea and want to write it out, but you only have the iPhone with you.

I’m tempted to try it out, but funnily enough, the big thing that stops me from getting it is that it uses the regular keyboard: I’d rather stick with ShapeWriter and then format on my computer!

Using the Cloud
Just after I finished the project, I came across another solution: Screenwriting Pro. It’s a web-based text editor for writing scripts. It's built using various database backend tools and Adobe Flex for the front end (Flex is an authoring environment that creates interfaces/programs that play back in the Adobe Flash player.)

Screenwriting Pro is in beta; it looks like it just came out in the last few months. If you join the Screenwriting Pro Beta program now, you get to use it for free, and then will get 6 months free when they start charging for it.

This is not the first online text editor by a long shot, or even the first in Adobe Flex. Adobe themselves acquired Buzzword, which is now part of Buzzword is an online text editor something like Word but running in the cloud.

Confusingly enough, Adobe also has their own online Script Editing application in Beta: Adobe Story.

Honestly, I'm a bit nervous about using these "cloud" applications. On the one hand it does mean you can move from one computer to another easily, but I'm still a bit nervous about losing stuff: I've lost so many forum posts through the years due to problems that happened after pressing "submit." Also, connection problems, and performance issues worry me. I think I'll stick to the native applications for the moment.


1 comment:

brittbenston said...

Hello, I too am entrenched in this online/mobile screenwriting app world, and have been developing iScreenwriter for the past 9 months. It has taken this long for many reasons, too many to list. It is currently under review by Apple and I'd love for you or anyone to check it out for $4.99. A free version will be released shortly thereafter. It's cloud and puts the script all on one screen, with fast typing/processing. Release soon, fingers crossed! Thanks!