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Fountain – A markup language for screenwriting (fountain.io)
147 points by ecopoesis on Oct 31, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

This is very interesting to me from the point of view that it's like a great combination of programming and another discipline.

I wish I knew enough about other fields so that I could create things like this. But my lack of in-depth knowledge in other topics prevents me and I don't know how to come across these things on my own.

I noticed some choose-your-own-adventure games on Steam (Zombie Exodus, Tin Star) built with ChoiceScript[0], a markup that seems to build into a full interactive game deliverable complete with state tracking and html forms for user input/prompt.

[0]: https://www.choiceofgames.com/make-your-own-games/choicescri...

Make friends who do things with little relation to programming. Help them make tools to do whatever they do.

Fountain, for instance, credits that seem to be pretty evenly mixed between people who make films and programmer types. Including a few who have a foot in both worlds. And it came in part out of a screenwriting app one of those filmmakers and one of those programmers was making.

Applying this to other fields is a really interesting idea. Prescriptions need a better markup. What about fitness tracking entered via plain text (in email or text to app)?

That's pretty interesting. I think in order for it to take off you would need a good autocopmlete editor to go with it.

This looks like a standardization of the way that screenwriting is done, rather than a revolutionary change in the way screenwriting is done. When I opened the .fountain file, I half-expected to see XML litter the place :-D

I could see myself writing a screenplay using this - and a really positive thing is that it imposes a framework on how I should be writing one. (I've tried multiple times, believe me)

Am really curious: what's the plan to foist this onto the Hollywood screenwriters?

> This looks like a standardization of the way that screenwriting is done, rather than a revolutionary change in the way screenwriting is done.

Yes, and this is exactly how a standard should be.

A markup language is the text equivalent of a user interface. It's well-known that good user interfaces for an existing task work with users' previous workflow, even to the point of including skeuomorphs as cues. A good markup language is one that makes minimal change to the user's existing workflow.

XML is terrible. It's not nearly as human-readable as it promises to be, nor is it as computer-readable as it promises to be.

It didn't promise anyone anything. It's a direct descendant of SGML, there were existing tools and use cases, you know.

"Am really curious: what's the plan to foist this onto the Hollywood screenwriters?"

Final Draft is the industry standard at the moment, and it has been for 20-odd years. To disrupt it, you could explore certain channels: dedicated websites and communities for writers; USC, NYU, and other film schools; or get studios and and agencies to accept it, which is ultimately where you need to win approval to get adopted as a standard. In any of these scenarios you'd probably need Final Draft import/export compatibility to get started and minimize switching costs.

Final Draft was the first to market and is the most used, but hardly the most loved. They are the IE of screenwriting software.

The industry standard is .PDF. As long as you can get to .PDF, all is good. All modern screenwriting software supports the Fountain syntax, except Final Draft. Final Draft is the dinosaur of the industry, and they are dying. One man shops are making far superior software at a lower price and that are far less buggy.

One you get into production, Final Draft might be needed, but many places aren't updated their overpriced licenses.

The top "traditional" software packages for screenwriting now are either Fade In Pro ($50) or WriterDuet (free/$99 one time license for all the extras). Both support Fountain.



If you're only writing in Fountain and then to PDF, Highland and Slugline are the other options. They are both under $30.


I also like afterwriting.com. Bascially it's Highland in a browser that can sync to Google Docs and Dropbox for free.


The great things about Fountain is that you can just use any text editor you want and then import into a Fountain compatible package and that it's very readable.

There is absolutely NO incentive for anyone to change. The valued added (if any) is not large enough to change established practices.

Not totally true, based on everything I've heard FD is a pile of crap that chugs, crashes, and can eat your file. Mind you that hasn't stopped it from remaining on top for now, but I would not be surprised if it stops being the default in the next 5-10 years.

From a cursory read of its website, it looks like a pre-internet app, basically a glorified text editor. There are zero network-enabled features. The only groupware-oriented feature is coloring pages differently if someone else edits the document. There is plenty of scope for disruption here.

The only "key feature" they have is that everyone in Hollywood uses FD. They say so themselves on their website! The "Key features" screen does not list any actual feature, it's just a list of variations on the concept that "everyone in Hollywood uses FD". In that sense, the main challenge is clearly political rather than technological.

Colored pages isn't about group editing per se, it is an artifact of not being able to change page numbers to avoid screwing with the shooting script. Instead you have like page 5 and then 5 red that is the extra page.

> Am really curious: what's the plan to foist this onto the Hollywood screenwriters?

Fountain was created by an A-list screenwriter, John August, who's written Big Fish, Go, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others. He's pushed it pretty hard on his podcast, Scriptnotes.

> This looks like a standardization of the way that screenwriting is done

I don't think many people have written scripts in plain text since they stopped using typewriters.

So you're saying he's yet another example of a screenwriter who doesn't use plain text computer files for his screenplays?

What I'm saying is that the process doesn't matter.

I Am Not A Screenwriter, but from what I've seen circulating in fandom over the years, most professionals write plaintext-over-MSWord or plaintext-over-FinalDraft. The result is pretty much just plaintext, once it's printed out (which it will be).

Oh yes, what screenplays look like is very standardized and hasn't changed much for the best part of a century.

There are tools that let you convert Fountain to Final Draft (the due facto standard) and back, so I don't think foisting is needed.

I'm not sure why this is making the front page of HN now. It's been around since 2012 and it's predecessor was around for a year or two before that. When they started, they advertised it as markdown for script writing (in fact, it extended a format literally called 'screenplay markdown'). It's not really a standardization of anything. If anything, it's a vast departure from the standard way of formatting scripts (which is to just use Final Draft). One of the driving forces behind fountain was the ability to write screenplays on the iPad. This was back when Final Draft was dragging their heels about releasing an iOS version.

Anyway, I doubt they have a plan to 'foist' this on anyone. It's another way to write screenplays that still produces what everybody expects to read: pdfs and final draft (fdx). There are a number of other formats that do this. I used a LaTeX extension at one point (but I don't recommend it).

As usual, there's a nice Emacs mode for it: https://github.com/rnkn/fountain-mode

Looks nice. However, I cannot install it via M-x package-install. It says file not found when doing the request. EDIT: Never mind, I had an old listing.

The awesome thing about this is that it lets you use git. It's a shame your chances of finding a co-writer who can use git are negligible. I wonder what Final Draft etc do about version control?

Another thing: I wish I could work out a free, no-nonsense way of turning fountain into pdf on Linux. I've been going via html, which works OK but feels a bit dirty.

Out of curiosity, what do you envision your fountain > pdf program to look like? When you say html are you exporting fountain to html and printing view your web browser?

Re. your first point I think a lot of writers date their scripts as their version control. Final Draft does have a limited revision tracking system. At this point I think most screenwriters just pass on PDF documents rather than .fdx or printed pages.

I'd like to be doing:

  textplay myscript.fountain > myscript.pdf
but textplay relies on a non-free thing called PrinceXML for its PDF export. So instead I'm doing

  textplay myscript.fountain > myscript.html
  wkhtmltopdf myscript.html myscript.pdf
which is in no way big deal, it's just a minor annoyance. I have a tiny wrapper (shell) script that does the above anyway.

Lots of screenwriters are techies, manage their own websites, install WP tools, etc. Not necessarily programmers, but I can think of many mainstream writers who would (and possibly already are) using git.

Fountain lets me screenwrite like how I code, which is awesome. I use Goyo[1] and capslock.vim[2] to reduce distraction and make the capitalization easier. Git in Dropbox works well when only one person is committing.

1: https://github.com/junegunn/goyo.vim

2: https://github.com/tpope/vim-capslock

My cowriter uses afterwriting[3] (locally[4]) to view them although we still use unformatted .docx for rough drafts, since he normally writes those and I revise.

3: http://afterwriting.com/

4: https://github.com/ifrost/afterwriting-labs

There's a nice python program that can turn Fountain files in to PDF, HTML or FDX files: https://github.com/vilcans/screenplain/

Wonder if blakeross used this to write up his awesome Silicon Valley Script?


He used "Scrivener (2.60.5)" to write that one. (Run pdfinfo on the file to see this.)

My understanding is that they're not crazy picky about what you use to write the script as long as the output on paper/PDF is in hollywood standard format. (Layout, typewriter font, heading formats, etc.)

At work, we've written a system that parses scripts from PDF files that is being used for breakdown, script analysis, and sides generation by quite a few movies and tv shows.

Wow, I thought that was a legitimately leaked HBO screenplay. That's some phenomenal fan fiction. :)

Seriously good script.

Be sure to checkout the apps page. Fountain is fairly well supported. http://fountain.io/apps

I made a small mobile implementation of this that saves to localStorage: http://sceneti.me

Beware: PDF export is still broken.

Looks interesting. For any kind of script writing I find it hard to move away from Scrivener though. It is just fantastic.

Oma similar note, what is up with the style/layout of movie scripts?

As an outsider it looks quite ugly compared to even a standard setting in google docs or word.

I'm sure it's mostly historical reason.

It emerged when people wrote screenplays on typewriters, and there isn't really a good reason to "fix" it. Nobody uses any other format, because a) people who read scripts can make reasonable judgements about timing / pacing etc if you use the standard format and b) writing in a non-standard format is a good enough reason to immediately discard your script and move onto the next one from the neverending pile.

Apparently Mad Max: Fury Road was written as something more like a storyboard than a traditional screenplay. There may be other exceptions, but not many.

Maybe there's a small element of cargo cultiness to it as well. And you can write any old shit and put it in The Format and from a distance it looks like a proper screenplay. But really, there's not much reason to do anything else.

Somehow I expected this to be a markup language for writing on screen ... and couldn't figure out why something like this exists.

I have used this fairly extensively before, vim + fountain + git is a winning combo. Now all I need is a good screenplay :)

I thought I was the only coder doing screenwriting as a hobby... :-) Which genres are you guys writing in?

I used to write mostly comedy scripts (tone similar to Get Shorty) but only ever produced one (extremely low-budget) feature-length film which was more of a modern noir.

Still have numerous scripts that I want to finish (who has the time?) but my hobby took a turn a bit and I created Moviestud.io (http://www.moviestud.io) to help me produce that film. It supports Fountain import. :)

National Novel Writing month starts tomorrow which would be a great time to scratch that screenplay itch!

At the moment, weird zero-budget shorts. Vaguely scifi, although I'm shooting a horrorish thing tonight. Most serious plan atm is to try and fundraise to do some early, public domain Philip K Dick stories with a small but non-zero budget.

Perhaps it is time for a generic markup language with stylesheets.

I think this is an amazing idea but I need some help brainstorming... What are some viable ways to turn this into a business?

The bootstrap link is broken.

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