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From a spec writer perspective, the short answer is that it has hotkeys, formatting based on element type, and autocomplete.

Beyond that, there are versioning tools (screenplay versioning can get a bit esoteric), alternate dialogue capabilities, scene numbering and reporting tools, and a lot more. It also has a lot of capabilities related to production, such as omit functionality, watermarking, script locking, etc.

Final Draft gets bagged on a lot for being expensive and ugly, but it really does have a ton of specialized tools that are incredibly powerful if used correctly.




> screenplay versioning can get a bit esoteric

I'm curious. What features to writers need that git couldn't provide?


It's not versioning like you would find in software development. Google will provide you with details (first link for me): http://www.scriptchick.net/Info/Revisions.html

The gist of it is that each version gets distributed to various channels of pre-production and production. Once locked, each page has its number and if the page changes, it stays in (!), but new one is added according to certain rules. In a way it's like a commit history printed out, but isn't. It's weird, but it works.


Looks like screenplays are heavily afflicted by a cult of doing it the hard way. Computer programmers have moved beyond punched cards and manual line numbering, but Hollywood is still pointlessly (proudly?) stuck in the typewriter era.

Nothing in that article supports the assertion that screenplays have a different concept of versioning than software developers. Screenwriters just have a different preferred format for displaying diffs, a different convention for version numbering (but that's completely irrelevant to a tool like git), and a paper-saving way of handling insertions and removals, when printing out on paper (again, irrelevant to git).

Advice like "If it's only one or two words that are different, consider just whiting out the existing script and writing it in, rather than reinventing the wheel and generating a new color." makes it very clear that this industry hasn't even tried to use technology to make these problems go away.

I wonder how long until this whole system gets replaced by tablets that always automatically show the latest revision, without requiring the use of esoteric paper colors.


I agree that it's stuck in ye 100 old way of doing things. New things are tried out constantly though. Scripties are on tablets these days with fancy tools and everything. DIT, new cutting-edge cameras and tools are first introduced here. Trouble is with screenplays still.

Screenplay is a tool, a blueprint that serves various departments throughout pre-production, production and post-production. That blueprint is also in flux as others are using it. I guess, well I believe one could modernise the whole screenplay pipeline. Trouble is you would have to make a significant advance in order for people to start using it. Every dept. except acting/blocking could start using new system(s) right away. Acting and blocking would still prefer paper.

Take into consideration that it's easy to criticise a system as an outsider. You would have to witness first-hand an organised chaos that film and/or TV production is in order to appreciate every single idiosyncrasy (at a first glance) that makes it all work.

Prime example are cameras. Usually people (who are for the first time on a set) ask about camera. Why this camera, why not that, etc. It works and doesn't stop the production train. If you can avoid slowing down anything on set (or before or after) and THEN introduce significant benefits, people will listen and welcome you immediately. This is an industry that takes in new technologies all the time, no hesitation. Provided they bring significant boost to productivity.


> Take into consideration that it's easy to criticise a system as an outsider. You would have to witness first-hand an organised chaos that film and/or TV production is in order to appreciate every single idiosyncrasy (at a first glance) that makes it all work.

I think this can't be overemphasized. I got into the movie business from software and was astounded by all of the quirks in the process that seemed to me to be fundamental inefficiencies. I was fairly certain that I could quite easily reinvent the process to make it smooth, efficient, and pleasurable.

Now, having been in the business for 14 years or so, almost all of it makes sense, and my arrogance in regard to their process is embarrassing at best. There are still a handful of quirks that don't make a ton of sense (even the property department will acknowledge that the only reason they handle cast chairs is because it's tradition), but generally speaking there is a good reason for everything being done the way it's done and it was a tough lesson that made it that way.

I also think it's important to remember that this is a 100 year old industry, and it's not an engineered process, it's an emergent process.

Just as an aside, the first time you have a week worth of wet work scheduled on a movie that's shooting so far out in the sticks that you have to have a satphone for set to communicate with basecamp, a lot of the reticence to adopt technologies that aren't completely bulletproof makes a lot more sense.


One really has to witness the production. Pre and post are different beasts.

I just came off a shoot last week where we had an extremely tight schedule and I was directing and DP-ing (small shoot of 5 days, but with full everything - gear, people, sets..). I had a great plan to shoot some things on RED and most on Alexa cameras. I had both at hand. I did that, but during the one of the setups where I wanted to use the RED, camera was starting to weird out on me. I had to play tetris and get past level three on its small screen in order to get to the menu I wanted in order to set something up, and then it was showing one thing while idling and other while shooting. Not even my ACs knew what's up and I ditched the camera in favour of Alexa right then and there. People started to wait on me on set. That's a big no-no, since overtimes and everything stands still. Otherwise a fine camera, but set was being held up. I did a few setups with it that were great and all, but from now on I will avoid RED just because of that experience. Maybe on more lax productions I will consider it again. That's how these practices are forged. When 30+ expensive people are waiting for you, while you're tight on time. That's how everything in this business evolved.


Yeah, tell me about it. I can recall one shoot where we started using our medic's ice packs to cool down the REDs (shooting in death valley) and another movie we shot in 3d with two REDs timecode synced with a prism system. I'll let you guess how much fun it was to keep 4 REDs working at one time and properly synced.

I hate to say it, but it's not surprising given someone like Jim Jannard came along and said "This business is backwards! I can fix this!" without completely understanding the requirements. Move fast and break shit doesn't work for every industry.


Also, what's up with those connectors on RED? Back on Red One they also had a genius idea to put the camera controls on the back of it!! So you had to dangle your battery to the side or top. It's as if they hadn't seen a movie camera before :)


I would love to read a long blog post from you about this!


That's very kind of you to say, and after this project is finished, I might even get around to it. Procrastination willing, maybe even sooner.

The takeaway at the end of the day for me is that my idea of efficiency is built around conditional repeatability. However, the fundamental drive of art is to create a unique experience. For obvious reasons, these two goals run a bit counter to each other. There are absolutely repeatable elements, otherwise we wouldn't be able to relate to media (or each other, for that matter). But by the very nature of the requirement of uniqueness, there is no one size fits all. When the syntax is the program, it tends to exclude all but the most basic and robust standardization.

At least that's my drunk peanut gallery theory.


> Screenplay is a tool, a blueprint that serves various departments throughout pre-production, production and post-production. That blueprint is also in flux as others are using it. I guess, well I believe one could modernise the whole screenplay pipeline. Trouble is you would have to make a significant advance in order for people to start using it. Every dept. except acting/blocking could start using new system(s) right away. Acting and blocking would still prefer paper.

I think the key insight that's missing is that the content of the screenplay is separate from the presentation. It sounds like there's no reason why a screenplay couldn't be edited as plain text in a font more readable than Courier with changes tracked by an off the shelf version control system. The editor shouldn't have to pay heed to concerns of pagination or paper coloring or version numbering, because all of that can be rather trivially automated by inspecting the version history and rendering a printable PDF as needed. Some actors may prefer looking at an archaic presentation of the information, but that requirement doesn't need to influence how anybody else interacts with the information.


I have to provide some more insight.

Regarding font - Courier 12pt is standard monospace used. People have (and do, but not often) use different monotypes. Using a monotype with certain margins and along with several other rules yields you a consistent overview of the script where the result of using all of that is approximately 1 minute of screen time per one page of script. That's why it's used. Non-mono font wouldn't yield same results.

Further on, people do not interact with scripts on paper anymore. You do print yourself a copy if you prefer to read it like that. Also, actors (and some people on set) do have a physical copies due to the nature of table reads (I've seen tablets on table reads), and blocking (moving around the set with script in hand, rehearsing).

In reality, no one has to even think about it. Reason is because there is one (or select few) producer and multiple consumers of the script. One persons job is to make sure everyone has the latest revision that they base their work on and that's it. It would be an issue if everyone had commit rights, but they don't. They just checkout latest commit and have the person that checks it out for them! Sounds dire, but is actually painless.


> Regarding font - Courier 12pt is standard monospace used. People have (and do, but not often) use different monotypes. Using a monotype with certain margins and along with several other rules yields you a consistent overview of the script where the result of using all of that is approximately 1 minute of screen time per one page of script. That's why it's used. Non-mono font wouldn't yield same results.

I'm certain that an automated word count could easily provide a more accurate heuristic and free up the graphical presentation to be more readable. This heuristic is exactly the kind of narrow-minded unwillingness to consider modern solutions that is so appalling. And the conventions were obviously not constructed for this purpose; they're relics of long-gone technological limitations and the 1 minute per page rule of thumb was probably not formulated based on a thorough measurement.


I would say "appalling" is a bit of a strong term for an industry that you're not involved in that doesn't perform a particularly critical function in society. To relay a saying often expressed on set, "We're not curing cancer."

I'll relay another joke from set:

A new Assistant Director comes on to help the second unit on Gone with the Wind. He finds the script supervisor.

AD: How much are we shooting today?

SS: One eighth of a page.

AD: You're kidding! We'll be home in an hour.

SS: I don't think so.

AD: What do you mean? What are we shooting?

SS: Atlanta burns.

The point is that it's an inherently fuzzy process, and heuristics work a lot of the time, but nobody cares about a system that works a lot of the time.

If you design something better, I'll be glad to use it (hell, I'll help you design it), but please don't be so quick to judge. It's a business of edge cases, and it's been built as such.

If it makes you feel any better, a lot of multicam shows and studio shows have switched over to all digital script distribution that's automatically distributed. But there is absolutely no replacement for a paper script for a lot of really compelling reasons.


> And the conventions were obviously not constructed for this purpose; they're relics of long-gone technological limitations

That's true of every single system that evolves organically, including software engineering. Or do you think all the cruft that accrues in every programming language is due to rational design?

The question isn't whether some new convention would be better, it's whether the benefit would outweigh the transition cost of either getting everyone to adopt it all at once or having crossed wires as people use different conventions at the same time.


Technical cruft usually only sticks around because cleaning it up would either be a monumental effort, or changing it would break other things that would be too much work to update. Either way, there are meaningful trade-offs that justify keeping around flawed systems.

Switching to a more readable font is a change that is trivially implemented now that nobody actually uses mechanical typewriters, and it would break nothing. Using a more readable font doesn't force you to include any more lines of text per page, so the dubious heuristic about page count and screen time wouldn't necessarily even be a casualty. There are no other substantive reasons to reject improvements to readability.

I certainly understand that there will be oddities of the film production process that are not worth fixing. But people who go out of their way to defend the pointless use of bad typography on printed documents that are meant to be read are in no position to be making credible arguments in defense of the less obvious flaws in their standard practices.


> There are no other substantive reasons to reject improvements to readability.

Inertia and information signalling are substantive reasons in an industry that is governed by convention and lots of networking.

Using a different font is a signal to the reader that you are ignorant of industry conventions, and hence less likely to have written a script that will follow acceptable norms--or perhaps worse, that you're a special snowflake who is willing to distract the reader from the content of the screenplay in favor of fiddling with form.

This is the same reason why most people don't make stunningly bold typographic choices when writing a resume -- they're not in a position of power, and they're either not confident enough in their own taste or the reader's taste to take any risks. Guides for aspiring scriptwriters basically suggest that you stick to the 'standard format' and not deviate from it [1].

Certainly, if you were writing and submitting scripts, feel free to implement your own suggestions.

[1] https://www.writersstore.com/how-to-write-a-screenplay-a-gui...

> Using a more readable font doesn't force you to include any more lines of text per page, so the dubious heuristic about page count and screen time wouldn't necessarily even be a casualty

So the heuristic would be a casualty, unless you jumped through hoops to make sure it still worked. Does this still sound like a cost-less switch to you?


> So the heuristic would be a casualty, unless you jumped through hoops to make sure it still worked. Does this still sound like a cost-less switch to you?

Unless somebody has actually done an analysis of how well script page count correlates to screen time with both fixed width and proportional fonts, the most you can assert is that the heuristic of unquantified accuracy might require adjustment. Conventional wisdom that hasn't been subjected to rigorous analysis shouldn't be presumed to be precise. The film industry certainly hasn't given itself much opportunity to accidentally discover it if proportional fonts turn out to yield a better estimator.

The typographic conventions for scripts were not constructed with the purpose of being used for this kind of estimation, thus it would be completely unsurprising if a study were to find it to be 30% off on average; the rule of thumb itself is the product of at least some rounding already. And there's no reason to believe that a re-calibrated heuristic based on more readable typography would need to have higher variance than one based on typewriters, either.

Computing the typewriter page count of a document is such a simple task that the feature could be added to any relevant piece of software in an afternoon. It would make sense to do so even if you're still going to print it out with typewriter formatting, because glancing at a footnote with those statistics is easier for a person to accomplish than counting physical pages.


I think we're talking past one another quite a bit.

Every organically evolved system has details in it that, in a vacuum, could be individually isolated, analyzed, and then improved. You're almost certainly right that Courier New 12-pt is not the optimal font for a screen play -- but is it worth the time and effort to 'fix' it?

> the most you can assert is that the heuristic of unquantified accuracy _might_ require adjustment.

Sure, but the onus is on the person suggesting the change. Nobody is going to make sweeping changes to long-established conventions based on little evidence that it will make a big improvement. And the industry is not going to do the study you suggested, for the simple reason that someone will guess that the cost of doing that study, plus switching to the new font, is probably less than the total benefits of having a new font. Is that an airtight 100% logical proof? No. Does that matter? No, because humans make subjective judgments when the cost of acquiring better information is perceived to be high .

I mean, what you're suggesting is pretty similar to going around and telling every team that should refactor their code base for improved readability.

Are there clear benefits to having better readability? Yes. Do they always exceed the cost of refactoring? Emphatically no. Is it easy to put a definite number on the cost or the benefit of refactoring? No. Therefore, we're left with heuristics and guesses. Sometimes it's worth it to refactor, but only when the code starts to really really smell. And neither of us are in a position to judge whether the process in the film industry has started to 'smell', because we don't work there.

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is an excellent meta-heuristic. Most organically evolved systems are sitting at a local fitness maximum. Finding and moving to a better local maximum is usually costly.


> But people who go out of their way to defend the pointless use of bad typography on printed documents that are meant to be read are in no position to be making credible arguments in defense of the less obvious flaws in their standard practices.

Screenplays are not meant to be read, they're meant to be understood and produced. Your argument is akin to saying that blueprints are too complicated for the average person, therefore they should be changed. They're not meant to be understood by the average person, they're meant to be understood by industry professionals. Just because you find it less than readable doesn't make it so. Those of us who know what we're doing with it think it's just fine.

I'm sorry you don't find them easily readable, but they're really not meant for you.


> Screenplays are not meant to be read, they're meant to be understood and produced.

That's nonsensical, unless you mean that they're meant to be mechanically analyzed—page counts, etc. that are obviously easier to accomplish without first printing them out. Even if they are not typically read in the manner of a novel, they're still intended solely for being read by human eyeballs, and for that purpose the typography is obviously deficient in ways that can be improved with no downside.

Repeatedly pointing out that the current system manages to work is not a refutation of the claim that it can be improved. Why are you so unwilling to admit even the most superficial of flaws in your industry's standard practices?


This. One only has to learn a bit of history of computing in the 60s and 70s to discover just how much crap we have to deal with because of tradition and popularity. We've taken lots of bad turns over the years - and that's beside the fact that today, most of the new things are simple rehashes of the old things that people don't care to read up about anymore.


>I'm certain that an automated word count could easily provide a more accurate heuristic and free up the graphical presentation to be more readable.

It would also be a recipe for misunderstandings and errors, while showing this information directly in the formatting of the output is instantly recognizable by all, even when printed out.

Clever-er isn't always smart, reminds me of the (not true, but used as a metaphor here) story of the US spending millions to make a pen that can write in space, upside down etc, whereas the russians just used a pencil.


If you have better ideas / solutions, I'm sure people will listen. I can provide you with an experience for a (any future) production from start to finish that you can observe.

Sometimes it's the companies that dictate standards. FD is notorious slow mover, yet it's 'an industry standard. I worked on one script with another writer. At that stage it was only two of us drafting the idea and I had a need to see what has changed in a script since I sent him my last version and vice versa. I mailed the dev of Fade In if he could just include a diff (yes, our beloved diff) somehow inside of Fade In. A day or two later it was in. I use it now constantly. Same ol' diff we're used to, kind of looks same as on github as well. Red and green lines and all.

This is an industry with lots of resources and a keen eye on new technologies. If you come up with something that optimises anything in workflow, it will come to open hands.


If the industry is open for suggestions, then I have a question: how can one make people who design futuristic displays and hacking scenes stop including webpage source as scrolling code examples? Freeze-framing a scene to see HTML+jQuery must be well on its way to become a Hollywood trope at this point! Maybe a library of categorized, MIT-licensed (or something) code samples would be of help? E.g. these snippets look like hacking, these look like future robot AI code, etc.


This is actually a really good idea, but it will require industry to step in and provide it. The number of films and shows that get it right are almost nil, but there aren't any consequences when they screw it up. The phone companies stepped in with 555 numbers when they got complaints from customers about people dialing numbers that appeared in films. But with no consequence for showing crappy or nonsensical code, either the writers/video playback guys are going to have to get better (this will happen with increased technical literacy over time, but will be pushed by increased audience technical literacy), or (the software) industry is going to have to step in with its own solutions.

If you want to make it happen right away, make a royalty free stock footage archive in 4k of various snippets of code with metadata on what it's for. Less work=more adoption.


I'm incredibly confused at calling courier not a suitable font for reading. Screenplays are meant to be read and understood quickly and the monospace font allows for that more easily than any other font. In fact. Courier has been the staple of editors in publishing houses anywhere from short stories to epic novels. Times New Roman is getting to the levels of "acceptable" but that's mostly all that is allowed or else you're unprofessional and don't understand the industry.


I forgot, regarding editing/writing screenplays themselves in other ways. There's Fountain http://fountain.io/ but it's still not widespread.


>Looks like screenplays are heavily afflicted by a cult of doing it the hard way.

Because programmers, especially on the UNIX world, are known to be so much more forward looking and having it the "easy way"?

https://gist.github.com/cookrn/4015437

>Nothing in that article supports the assertion that screenplays have a different concept of versioning than software developers. Screenwriters just have a different preferred format for displaying diffs, a different convention for version numbering (but that's completely irrelevant to a tool like git), and a paper-saving way of handling insertions and removals, when printing out on paper (again, irrelevant to git).

So they have absolutely no use for Git, except as a lower-level versioning engine in the backend, with all the actual results and presentation layer reformatted into screenplay-specific views. So why should they care for Git specifically over any other engine that provides the latter out of the box?


> So why should they care for Git specifically over any other engine that provides the latter out of the box?

Is that question actually meant for me? I made no suggestion that git should be used to replace any existing software in the screenwriting profession. I merely used it as a canonical example of a software development version control system, to refute the statement that "It's not versioning like you would find in software development." There's nothing fundamentally different about the revision tracking done for screenplays than for software; git's inadequacies for the task aren't in the core functionality but in the window dressings, which most software developers also complain about.


> I wonder how long until this whole system gets replaced by tablets that always automatically show the latest revision, without requiring the use of esoteric paper colors.

Do they also not run out of batteries when you're filming in the middle of a desert at night?


Did I miss the part where the paper scripts are printed with radium ink?


No. But you did miss the part where paper doesn't have batteries.


But the flashlights or other light sources needed for the posited filming in the middle of a desert at night do need batteries every bit as much as a tablet would.


I'm praying you're a troll. But if you're not, your flippant dismissal of thousands of man hours of experience in an industry in which you have no experience lead me to believe that I really hope I don't depend on any systems you've ever touched.

This is the first thread I've ever commented on for HN, mostly because I'm usually out of my depth. This one, I'm actually an expert on. This will also be my last comment here, mostly because I expected more than your bristling, reactionary, unobservant level of discourse.

All the best. I hope you find the peace you're looking for, and that it's not through arguments on the internet.


They need lights for filming. That's a given. But once they have lights for filming, they have the light they need to read scripts. But light isn't enough for tablets, they all need to be independently charged, or you they do nothing. That's a huge knock against their usability.


That is an amazing link, thank you. I particularly like the very specific sequence of paper colors used to indicate the revision number, followed by a note that because everyone needs to use white paper for practical reasons, they just print the color name at the top.


There's a bunch of things like that in production! Most, if not all, were learned the hard way.

For example, camera cards and offloading them into a computer. There's a specific sequence which reveals where people got burned on each step.

This is what you do with Alexa for example. You get an unlocked card from assistant which you put into the camera. You go to either quick erase or full erase (format) on camera and then you have to press two buttons simultaneously on camera to OK the erase, like launching nukes. Then you get some red gaffer tape and write down the cards number (A016 for example) and tape it OVER the flapping gate cover of the card on the camera. Once you're done with the card, it's full or whatever, you take it out, lock the writing lock on it, put it in its plastic sleeve and tape shut that sleeve with that piece of red tape with number on it. If no sleeve, tape goes over the card. Then you give the card to your assistant or DIT or whoever is in charge of offloading on your set. He offloads the card, removes the tape, releases the lock and gives it back to you as ready to use. There are multiple cards like that in circulation at any given time.


>What features to writers need that git couldn't provide?

Ease of use, for one.




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