Scripped, Online Screenwriting and Backups

Some screenwriters, whether for reasons of cost or convenience, prefer online software solutions for their script work, whether Adobe Story, Celtx, or newcomer WriterDuet. However, last week the risk of those primarily online services came to public attention with the dramatic implosion of Scripped.

Scripped was an online-only screenwriting and script storage solution, a web-based alternative to using Final Draft or Fade In. The ScreenCraft owned community was languishing somewhat, apparently on the verge of rejuvenation when a total database calamity occurred. All scripts, including all backups, were irrevocably wiped with no hope of restoring them. Due to the diminishing nature of the community, the damage wasn’t as widespread as might have been feared, but for those people still deeply embedded in the ecosystem, it was catastrophic. Those who had not maintained offline backups had lost potentially years of work.

Now, the idea of not taking backups sends shivers of fear up my spine. It’s this kind of terror, combined with poor or non-existent offline solutions, that has kept me from web-based screenwriting software. I know that Adobe Story and WriterDuet have both an offline solution and backup options, but then so did Scripped. Adobe may have more resilient infrastructure than Scripped owners Screencraft, but nothing can really protect you totally from that kind of disaster.

Personally, I write using offline tools, I use Dropbox for day-to-day synching, TimeMachine for frequent backups, and also store timestamped archives of my writing folder on an FTP site. I considered myself slightly over-paranoid in this regard until I started speaking to other people. Additional options included saving timestamped archives onto DVDs, and printing and filing all drafts of all scripts. Those might be going a bit far for me, especially physical copies. Paper is anathema to me, and if I fall out of love with a script, the temptation to shred it might just be too great.

So, what can we learn from the Scripped fiasco? By all means use online solutions, especially if budgets are a concern. But make sure they have decent internal backup solutions, and also store editable copies of all your scripts elsewhere, with as many additional storage iterations as your paranoia demands. Because it’s only paranoia until the unthinkable happens.

Addendum

Craig Mazin and John August go into some detail about the Scripped aftermath in their Scriptnotes podcast.

Also, if you need to recover scripts from PDF backups, this can be done with most files directly in Fade In, but also in Highland.

Mobile Apps for Writers

These days many writers rely on their mobile devices, their phones and tablets, rather than (or in addition to) more analogue stationary. Anything to get ideas down on the move with a minimum of effort and inconvenience. So I’ve gathered a list of mobile apps that I find useful to this end. I’ll apologise for the slight iOS bias in these, it’s not that I think one platform is necessarily superior to any other, but it just happens to be the one that works for me. Some these aren’t free, and there are cheaper alternatives for most, but again they’re the ones that work for me.

Dropbox

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Dropbox is really just your basic minimum, it’s a syncing, backup and file storage solution. Install it on your computer(s) and it’ll keep the folder synchronised across everything and make the files available to your on all your mobile devices. You can also share people links to files or entire folders, rather than sending documents backwards and forwards. Importantly, some apps listed below also allow direct access to Dropbox, meaning you’re not linked into any device specific ecosystems for file access and sharing. While the basic Dropbox package is free for 2Gb of storage, you can get 1Tb of storage for £7.99 per month.

Drafts

(Cost £7.99. Available for iOS only)

Drafts is sadly iOS only. All Drafts does is give you a blank page to create text notes, and that really is all. It gets you in fast, files your snippets away, and then gives you the opportunity to transfer the notes to social networks, Dropbox, Evernote or a variety of other destinations by a powerful series of tools. Drafts also support Markdown, for those people who use that. Use it when you need minimal friction between your device and the words battering away at your brain.

Evernote

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows Phone/Windows/Mac)

Evernote is a great way of organising all those little snippets you acquire over time, the little notes and photos and ideas and documents. All can be tagged and sorted and organised, making it easy to find those ideas again when you’re looking for a specific note or some inspiration. I use it by using the web clipper to clip web pages I find as I browse, sending notes from Drafts and using IFTTT to sync favourited tweets and photos.

Microsoft Word

(Cost £0. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

As opposed to Drafts, Microsoft Word is a fully fledged word processor, and the mobile implementation, especially for tablets, is pretty good. It can even open documents from Dropbox and save them back there. Much as some would like to leave the hegemony of MS word, people are still going to use it and so we need to be able to open and edit the documents.

iAnnotate

(Cost £7.99. Available for IOS/Android)

There is a lot of competition amongst mobile PDF annotation apps, but my vote goes to iAnnotate. It does the job well, and is incredibly useful when someone inevitably send you a PDF of their work to review. It too can open from Dropbox.

Fade In Mobile

(Cost £3.99. Available for IOS/Android)

I’m a big fan of Fade In screenwriting software, and the mobile implementation is pretty good as well. And, it too can open from and sync with Dropbox.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus

(Cost £2.99. Available for IOS/Android/Windows)

The M-W dictionary and thesaurus app is excellent. There are cheaper versions out there, and even British English specialised dictionaries, but I find that M-W blows them away, and also differentiates between British and American usages.

Do you have any others you can’t live without? Any replacements for any of the above, or comments on the ones I’ve chosen? Let me know!

Screenplay Format Controversies

Icon-Writing-150On the whole, screenplay format is pretty standardised, and thankfully screenwriters barely have to think about it thanks to the use of modern screenwriting software.

Some of the formatting controversies of the past have been dealt with and become canon: Avoid using parentheticals or transitions unless absolutely, vitally necessary. Simple enough. Two controversies remain though.

Fade In/Out

For once I’m not talking about the screenwriting software Fade In, but the necessity to begin every screenplay with FADE IN: and end it with FADE OUT. Certain guides will tell you it’s mandatory, some will tell you it’s tradition and you should just do it. Many newer to the industry will say it’s redundant and can be skipped, leaving the choice of fading, cutting etc. to the director like all transitions. There’s pretty much no consensus other than this: Keeping it will seemingly annoy nobody, while removing them could irk some. So we may as well use them, and some of their variations. A word of warning though: There should only ever be one of each in the screenplay.

Double-Space

I don’t refer to line-spacing, but the number of spaces after a full stop in a screenplay. After years of beautifully laid-out treatises, typographers finally convinced us all that putting two spaces after a full stop was redundant, as these days we have typefaces and word-processors that handle the kerning properly. The restrictions of mono-spaced typewriters were a thing of the past. Except, however, when writing a screenplay, where we use a mono-spaced Courier font, to facilitate standardised spacing, partly to assist in judging the minute per page pacing. Again, nobody is going to throw your script in the bin for only using a single space, but apparently it’s easier on the eye of a script reader to use two spaces. And these are the people who’ll make the first decision on whether to pass on your script.

Final Draft 9 vs Fade In – Screenwriting Software Deathmatch

FD9Final Draft 9 has been so long in coming, that it created the vacuum for its competition to exist in. In my opinion, foremost among the competition is Fade In,  so I thought I’d do a side-by side comparison. You can do the same, both pieces of software have demo versions available.

Fade In LogoFirst off, installation. An install program is an install program, but Final Draft picks up early points for country-specific setup. All it does is set a default for paper size and dictionary, but it’s something that Fade In needs me to adjust for every new project.

The next step was importing an existing project. Final Draft is still content to sit at the top of the tree and demand everyone plays with its file format, now updated. The only import functions are TXT and FDX. This in comparison to Fade In: Fade In Import

So, what’s new? Well, on the Mac version, Final Draft can finally go fullscreen. Hardly innovative, every other Mac screenwriting software has had it since it was an option. But finally Final Draft has caught up. I’ve not tried it myself, but apparently the Windows version still doesn’t have full-screen editing.

One useful new feature in Final Draft 9 is Script Notes. This can be used to add specific, script specific notes, edits and comments, but also more general script notes, which could be used for references, loglines, synopses, treatments etc. This is very useful, and currently missing from Fade In.

While not new, Final Draft’s index card and scene navigator are both currently superior to that of Fade In. The ability to directly edit and manipulate the index cards just seems slicker on FD (if not up to Scrivener’s standards) and the scene navigator has the option of scene synopses display.

Another new addition to Final Draft is the character navigator, which now facilitates tracking of characters and changing their names throughout. Fade In has had this for some time, though doesn’t have any additional data, like arc beats, available. It does, though, have the same facility for locations, not present in Final Draft. Personally, this scene/script meta data is something I’d like to see expanded out substantially, taking a leaf from Adobe Story’s book:

Adobe Story's scene meta-dataRuntime, editable, characters, including non-speaking parts, tags, synopses, budget, camera shots… This is the level of metadata I’d like to see. Useful for everyone? No. But you don’t have to use it.

Finally, there are the non-software related elements, the first of which is response. I’ve never had to wait long for the Fade In team to respond to a message, regardless of medium. I’ve never had a member of the Final Draft team reply. Fade In is constantly being updated, while Final Draft has kept us waiting for years for next to no substantial improvements. And price? Fade In costs as much as the upgrade from FD8 to FD9.

So, in summary, for my money I’m going to be staying with Fade In.

Final Draft 9 to be released in 2014

FD9There has been a lot of speculation as to the release date of Final Draft 9, but I have the definitive answer now: Public demos will begin at the end of this month, and the release date will be early 2014, specifically January 6th. The new features are listed here.

There are a number of worldwide user groups at the end of the month to this effect, but the first worldwide demo of Final Draft 9 will be at London Screenwriter’s Festival 2013. I will of course report back from there.

Can’t wait for 2014 for new screenwriting features? Check out Fade In, which will have eclipsed even FD9 if they implement a few features.

Updated with specific release date and link to new features.

Further Update: Check out the side-by-side review of FD9 vs Fade In Pro.