If you are a screenwriter or at least like to dabble with writing movies you’ve probably heard the controversy surrounding Final Draft’s latest update, if it can be called that. Called out by the Scriptnotes podcast, Final Draft even came on the show to attempt to refute the criticisms… and failed miserably.
After such a long wait for a lackluster improvement, others have stepped in to fill the void and actually utilize the growing ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, cloud syncing, etc. From John August and Stu Maschwitz, a new markup syntax, Fountain, allows you to write a screenplay in any plain text editor. There are also programs that will take those Fountain files and output a formatted screenplay in PDF format, perfect for sending off to LA!
As I’ve mentioned in my post about plain text (holy crap was it really that long ago?), I am now a huge proponent of any system that doesn’t tie me to one program in order to work on something. Like any other plain text file/format, Fountain allows me to work on a script on any device in any text editor, as well as keeping that file synced and backed up via Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive, etc.
As the Scriptnotes podcast pointed out, while Final Draft may have made it look like someone had to use their program and FDX file format in order to send out a screenplay, that’s complete bunk. A reader wants a screenplay, period. They want it in the correct format, traditional Courier font, etc. and that’s it. It can be printed out and mailed old-school, a PDF, a Word file, FDX, it doesn’t matter. PDF is nice because you can lock a PDF down except for printing. If they wanted to make changes, well that’s when you and/or your agent should be getting a call or email.
So, is it hard to learn to write in Fountain? No! Far easier than Markdown and even basic HTML, there aren’t too many specific keywords or symbols needed when writing a basic film screenplay. Now if you’re writing for the stage or an animated TV show, you might have a little more work to do. But, like any other writing or even programming, the point of Fountain is to write now and worry about formatting later. If you’re writing a long dual-dialogue scene, then just write the character names and their dialogue. Then when you’re finished you can look on the Fountain syntax reference page and find out exactly how to set it up. But don’t do that while you’re trying to get the words down. Remember, the formatting only matters at the end when you’re ready to send it off. Until then, write with a large sharpie on paper towels for all I care.