Re-entry problems

More from Lost in the Cosmos:

But what is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week. What did Doestoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table. What does the reader do after finishing either book? How long does his exaltation last?

He gives several (slightly tongue-in-cheek) options, including suicide, sex, and alcohol. But also, travel or moving:

The self leaves home because home has been evacuated, not bombed out, but emptied out by the self itself. That is, home, family, neighborhood, and town have been engulfed by the vacuole of self, ingested and rendered excreta. What writer can stay in Oak Park, Illinois? One leaves for another place, but soon it too is ingested and digested.

Yeah, thinking of leaving myself.

Add marketing to the list of things you need to know

Just when you start thinking “I’m really getting a handle on this movie-making thing” there’s another whole field of study and skill to learn.

I’m working on a marketing plan for my (still unnamed) feature film. It’s really hard, despite the fact that I’ve been working in ‘marketing’ as a day job for the past ten years or so. Or so I thought.

I realized, while reading Seth Godin’s new (and fantastic) book This is Marketing, that I haven’t really been marketing. I’ve just been working on tactics. SEO, paid search, advertising, analytics.

In the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about the story of the film, how to talk about it in a way that resonates with people, that creates tension and makes them want to see it. And about the stories that my target audiences tell themselves, how they view the world, what they care about, why they choose to watch one movie or another, and why they tell their friends to watch a movie (or not).

The irony is that I think about that all the time when writing screenplays, how to create suspense and tension and create the feeling of “what happens next?”. It’s weird how bad we are at applying what we know in one domain to another.

The Passage

God I love this short:

The Passage

It’s like when people say “shorts should really be under 15 minutes, unless…”

This is the unless.

The cut back to the guys struggling with the mannequin is magic.

The long dark winter of the edit

Blessed without a day job I’ve had hours upon hours to sit with my movie and polish the cut. The days blend together. I think I was sick a few weeks ago. Or was that last week? My birthday was a month ago and I’m not sure what I did that day or night.

I was thinking today, why does it get harder as you get closer to being done? There’s the sort of obvious answer, which is that it’s scary to ship stuff. It’s scary to say “here, this is it.” Much easier to say “this is the rough cut, what do you think?”

But I think there’s a practical (and unavoidable) reason why the last 20% takes 80% of the time.

It’s like when you go to the ophthalmologist1 and she’s flipping back and forth, number one or number two, how about four, that’s four, now five, etc.

It gets harder with each level because the difference is more noticeable, she’s tacking in from a wide chasm to a narrow one so each step gets progressively harder to detect a difference. When you can’t tell the difference anymore, that’s your prescription.

So movies. At the beginning, there’s lots of fast progress. You start the day and you have no scene and then a few hours later you have a scene. It’s not done necessarily but you took it from 0 to 0.8 in a day.

And then as you get deeper in, the changes become finer. It’s harder to tell the difference. Is it better this way or that way? How can I tell, I’ve been looking at this for days, maybe I’ll send it to a friend to see what they think.

All of this and the quality approaches a local maxima, an asymptote, as close as necessary to perfect.

And as you reach the asymptote, you start to question: are we really there? Is it done or do I just want it to be done?


  1. just realized I’ve been misspelling that as “opthamologist” my whole life 

Notes on Berlin

From somewhere over the North Atlantic, I’m on my way home to Chicago after a month in Berlin.

I took the trip in part for family reasons but I extended it to get a better feel for the city, but I was writing, editing, and working throughout. I stayed there for just over a month (leaving for a long weekend in Spain in the middle) in a one-bedroom AirBnB apartment in Graefekiez, a gentrifying neighborhood in Kreuzberg. These thoughts are gleaned from many conversations with people here, Germans and non-Germans, as I consider moving to a new city or staying in Chicago.

I arrived on December 18 and quickly remembered how cities change drastically during the holiday time from Christmas to New Year’s Day. I usually don’t like the way the rhythm of cities slows down during holiday times, but I felt it double being in a new city. Things changed drastically once January hit and I felt a lot more life in the city, and had a much easier time meeting people.

I mostly avoided touristy things, except for two walking tours of Kreuzberg, including a tour of street art, something Kreuzberg is well known for.

When viewed from the street, much of the city is ugly to me. In Kreuzberg, almost every building surface within reach of spray paint is covered in graffiti.

There’s more trash on streets and the energy often feels messy — during our tour, a man stopped to pee on a tree about 15 feet from us, in the middle of the afternoon. I saw many other men pissing on the street during the month, including on a building in the middle of Alexanderplatz on New Year’s Eve, and none seem concerned that the police would give them a citation (or that everyone was shooting off fireworks, mostly into the air).

I love the street art.

This last one is one of my favorites, the Berlin wall turning into a wall of Euros. Anti-capitalist slogans are everywhere in the city. There also a lot of griping about gentrification and rising rents (which are still very cheap for a major city) and a feeling that the “cool Berlin” is gone or quickly fading. I hear this just about everywhere I go, whether in Berlin or the U.S. — it’s gentrifying, rents are going up, this place used to be cool 5/10/15/25 years ago.

Still, grassroots movements to keep the city unique have had some success. Google wanted to build a large office here and decided to back down after protests. “Fuck Google” stickers and graffiti can be seen around town.

The bigger art pieces are commissioned or done with permission. Some of the graffiti, like these ornate tags by the Berlin Kidz are also beautiful, at least to me.

That spells “paradox”.

While much of the exterior in the city is ugly, the interior spaces are often beautiful and unique. Stores, cafes, and apartments often have colorful interiors with ornate flowers painted on the walls, impeccable lighting, and many plants. It’s the opposite of Chicago, where the architecture is consistently beautiful but the interior of everyone’s apartment looks the same.

I wonder if Berliners feel that when they come inside, they want to come into warm, welcoming, cozy spaces, oases from the ugly exterior world.

There’s a similar phenomenon with the people too, who are generally attractive but dress in unflattering or, well, aesthetically unconventional ways. I’m not sure if it’s just the current fashion or what.

All of this amounts to a massive amount of texture. The city feels lived in, real, and human in a way that the grid of Chicago often feels dehumanizing and alienating to me.

Fewer than 50% of the residents are from Berlin. There are many many immigrants, expats, and refugees (notably Turks, Syrians, and Spaniards). And the city has also attracted droves of young professionals, artists, designers, coders, and entrepreneurs from all over the world.

This creates a feeling of constant energy and excitement. It feels like people really want to be here. On the other hand, I got the feeling from talking to people that it’s a bit of a transitional city, a waypoint on the way to somewhere else for many people. Several people told me it was hard to maintain friendships for more than a year because people come and then move on. Sometimes people come and then change completely as they discover some new way to live or new thing they’re into and join a different milieu or social group. That’s what makes it exciting – people can come and be free to find themselves, but it can also make it difficult.

The thing that I wonder though is — how much is substance and how much is hype? How much is just cool vs. impactful art? I have no way to answer these questions.

The city is incredibly international. There are people here from all over the world. It’s striking how uninternational Chicago feels in comparison. If you speak more than one language, then it’s common to have a little dance at the beginning of every conversation where you try to figure out which language is Pareto optimal for the conversation.

It was common for me to start with German (of which I know very little), have the other person switch to decent English, and then after a few minutes I would realize that they were from Spain or Colombia and we would switch to Spanish.

There are many Spaniards and Latin Americans there and Spanish is a pretty useful language to have in the city, although English is widespread. Almost everywhere you go, someone speaks at least some broken English. And some locals are upset because they have gone to restaurants or cafes where none of the staff spoke German. Many of the expats never bother to learn any German.

Now, some sentences about the fucking weather.

I’ve been to Berlin in the summer, when it was sunny and warm (but not hot) and it’s similar to Chicago — everyone is happier, everyone is outside, the sun is up until late, everything feels more beautiful, and there is much merriment had by all. In Berlin, you can drink in public and you’re either unemployed or have six weeks of vacation a year and so obviously you can enjoy the summer even more, drinking by the river with your eight friends, each from a different country.

Berlin in the winter is the opposite of that. It’s extremely gray. Like no sun for weeks at a time. My brother (who has lived there for seven years) tells me that a few years ago ago they had a winter with only 40 hours of sunlight the entire winter. I didn’t see pure unbroken sunlight for more than a five-minute stretch until… three days ago, or after being there for almost a month.1 The sun rises late (around 8am) and sets early (around 4pm).

I think it’s hard to underestimate the impact of living without sunlight for so long. Chicago winters are also depressing to me, mainly because they don’t end until April or May and also because they are also very gray. But Berlin felt depressing in a way that Chicago doesn’t.

My theory is that the Chicago winter is so extremely cold and harsh and the wind so terribly biting that it all creates a sometimes dire sense of hardship and suffering, which on the one hand is about as enjoyable as any other hardship and suffering but on the other hand has the pleasant side effect of creating a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow Chicagoans because we’re all in this together and goddammit we might not have much to live for but we will make it to see the summer, so help me God.2

Berlin’s weather felt less like a desperate struggle against mother nature and more like “well, this is just how things are, sorry, maybe try some Lexapro?”

I don’t know if it’s the city or the weather or the fact that the sun doesn’t rise until 8am, but my schedule shifted. I’ve been waking up at about 8am like clockwork for the past year and all of a sudden I found myself sleeping until 9am or 10am without any problem and naturally falling asleep around 1am or 2am. On a few nights, I went out to a bar or a party only to realize that it was 4:30am or 6:00am. There’s no way I’m just accidentally staying out until 6am in Chicago.

Film and Work

I wanted to meet up with more filmmakers but the weird time of year conspired against me.

I did get to one film event this week and met some interesting filmmakers. There was a pitch session where people could talk about their project and try to enlist collaborators. My sense was that most indie projects here are zero budget. I’m not sure if that’s better or not than Chicago – in Chicago, most indie projects have some funding, although never a lot of funding. Probably some projects would be better off going zero budget but it’s also nice that people get a little bit of money.

Another thing I noticed was that most of the people pitching were looking for writers to collaborate with. In Chicago, it feels like everyone is a writer. I don’t know any directors in Chicago that don’t also write their own material. Almost every comedian/improviser I know is also a writer or has written their own material at some point. I don’t know if everyone writing for themself is optimal, and I don’t want to draw conclusions from just meeting a handful of filmmakers in Berlin.

My hunch is that while Berlin may be more creative or inspiring than Chicago, it’s also harder to ship your work because there are so many shiny fun things going on, so many interesting people to meet, etc.

Berlin felt like it was telling me to not miss out, to come out and play and be weird and stay out late and party and meet people. During the winter in Chicago, I feel like the city is telling me to stay home, edit and write and watch Netflix and occasionally go to a bar with my friends to complain about the weather.

So while I think it would be more creatively stimulating to live there, I also think it would require more discipline to work and write.

Freedom

There’s something about Berlin that truly feels free, like I actually felt more free there. I can’t quite describe it, it’s something cultural, something in the air.

And I’m not exactly oppressed in Chicago. I can’t really put my finger on it, but you just get the sense that anything goes — you can be anyone you want in Berlin and people won’t judge you (as long as you’re not judgmental).

Then there are things like the fact that you can drink in public. And urinate in public, if that’s your thing. And there’s the drug dealers at the Gorlitzer Park U-Bahn station (I never bought from them, but it’s nice to know you can buy drugs if you want them).

Smoking is still allowed in many bars, and regulations seem easy to skirt or laws are ignored or not enforced. And smoking is much more common.

Three days before New Year’s eve, tons of pop-up fireworks stores open up and people buy massive amounts of fireworks. The entire city is lit up by nonstop fireworks for hours after midnight on New Year’s Eve. It can’t be safe… I had fireworks exploding near me multiple times as I walked around or drank a beer on the sidewalk. It’s insane how many people were shooting off fireworks, including children.

Even the dogs are free — most dogs are walking around with their owners, unleashed.

And it almost always felt civil. I never felt in danger. Many of the smaller streets are dark at night but crime is much lower than in a major U.S. city.

And while raving drunks are tolerated on the train platforms, people will publicly yell at and scold people who are having ‘adult’ conversations or talking crudely in the presence of children.

Random notes

Nobody asked me about Trump. When I traveled to Europe in the Bush years, everyone made comments about Bush.

I talked to a Russian who had no idea about any sort of Russian interference with U.S. elections. I told her it was a huge debate in the U.S. and she thought the very idea was preposterous. So, it seems that one of us is being lied to.

One of my favorite things was drinking tea, which was served with freshly-sliced ginger or mint leaves.

It’s feels safe in a way that a U.S. city never feels.

Reading Jane Jacobs has helped me understand why I much prefer living on mixed-use streets and why these streets feel better to walk on and live on.

There aren’t so many, uh, basic people.

It’s probably one of the best deals for geo-arbitrage for someone that wants a major international city. Cost of living is rising but still much lower than London, Paris, NY, SF, Chicago, LA.

Anti-racist and anti-sexist graffiti and signage are all over the place. The city is aggressively intolerant of intolerance.


  1. My weekend in Spain was uninterrupted sunlight for three glorious days. 

  2. To be fair, you shouldn’t believe anything I say right now, because it’s January and any asshole can tell you how the winter isn’t so bad in January, a whole three to four months before winter ends. 

A Review of Highland 2 (vs. Final Draft)

This isn’t meant to be an in-depth review of every single feature. I’m going to share some of the things that I love about Highland 2 (just going to call it Highland from here on out) and a few things that I don’t love.

As background: I’ve been using Final Draft since 2011. Last year, I upgraded from version ~71 to version 10. Final Draft was never a joy to use, but it got the job done and I could ignore all the clutter and work around the idiosyncrasies and get my writing done.

And while I am pretty critical of Final Draft, I should say that it has been a big part of my life and work since I started using it. It helped me write hundreds of pages of scripts, including all of my films, several plays, and many many sketches. I’ve used it for over a thousand hours (maybe a few thousand?) and it has served me very well. I hope they can improve the user interface and modernize the software, because I want there to be multiple great choices in the marketplace.

For the past week, I’ve been using Highland every day, working two-three hours per day on the first draft of a comedy screenplay. I’m using the Pro version but the free version includes most of the features of the Pro version.

The User Interface

My first impression of writing in Highland 2: I feel like someone designed screenwriting software for exactly how I write.

The UI looks great. It’s easy on the eyes. It has everything I want to see and nothing more. It’s not cluttered. It feels light and modern.

And it makes me feel good about writing.

The impression that I get from everything in Highland is that it’s the result of thoughtful consideration by smart people, even when I disagree with the design choices.

^^^ That’s a screenshot of the screenplay tutorial that ships with Highland 2. It’s a great introduction to how to use the program.

It feels good to write a screenplay in Highland. You can’t quantify delight, but it’s delightful to use. And it’s not just aesthetically pleasing — it’s very intuitive and easy to use. I never feel lost in the software.

Compare that to Final Draft, which still has a design aesthetic that reminds me of the early aughts — the icons are dated and the colors are not particularly pleasing.

And Final Draft has been getting progressively more cluttered and cumbersome over the years. Many of the new features are things that I have no interest in — things like beatboards and story maps and ScriptNotes.

I do all of my outlining, beat boarding, story mapping, and script noting outside of Final Draft, usually in Word docs. When I want to actually map something or use notecards, I prefer the physical versions.

The writing experience

So, what about the writing? Does it make it easier to write a screenplay?

My answer is yes. For me, the killer feature is the Editor vs. Preview modes.

The Editor view is the behind-the-scenes view where the writing gets done. The Preview view, which translates what’s written in the Editor view into the screenplay format that you’ll want to export or share.

Here’s what I love about this: in Editor mode, you have three ways of writing text that is hidden in Preview mode:

  • Synopses
  • Notes
  • Omit

Here’s an example of a synopsis, which is enabled by starting a line with an = sign:

Notes work in a similar way, but they are enclosed in double brackets like [[note]]and can be used inline in a dialogue or action block:

Both of these little features have been insanely helpful while writing the first dirty draft of a screenplay where everything is messy and there are so many little things that need to be flagged so they can be dealt with in a later draft.

I use them for things like alternate lines, things that need to be fixed later, or just notes to myself about a scene, character, or beat.

In Final Draft, my way of handling these little notes was to just write a note to myself in bold within an action or dialogue block. Which is fine, I guess. No, it’s not fine. It meant that if I wanted to share an unpolished draft with someone, I had two choices:

  1. Share the entire screenplay with them, notes and all
  2. Remove all of the notes and put them in a separate document

Option 1 sucks because I usually don’t want a producer or a reader reading all of the open questions I have about the script. Even if I want to share those things, I want to share them separately instead of having them distract from the reading experience.

Option 2 is not a real option because it is too annoying.

And even if I’m not sharing the screenplay, I want to be able to find the notes that I’ve written. There’s no real way to do that in Final Draft (well, OK, there’s “ScriptNotes”, but no).

In Highland, these notes show up in a different color, so they are easy to find.

And (!) they show up in the Navigator in the Sidebar. That means that I can easily scan all of the open notes in the screenplay and quickly jump to them.

When rewriting, I can create a little tag for each one and then filter in the Navigator to only show the notes that I want to see — in the feature I directed this summer there were three moments where a variation of a speech was delivered. There was a time when I was working on all three of them and wanted to be able to quickly jump between all three of them, but there was no way to do this from the Navigator in Final Draft.

Highland makes the rewriting process so much better and easier. I can write all of the notes I have on a script inline in the Editor and then just work through any outstanding notes until the draft is complete.

When I’m ready to address the notes, they’re right there in the Navigator — I can just click to jump to a note.

And if I don’t want my Navigator view to be cluttered with all of these little asides, I can just change the Navigator filter so they are hidden.

Oh, and there’s a third way to leave notes in the Editor view. I think it’s called Omit, and it works in the same way as a comment in JavaScript or CSS:

(those are not real beats from a real script).

These omits or comments don’t show up in the Navigator.

All of this makes writing a first draft in Highland an absolute joy. I can leave all kinds of notes throughout the script, knowing that they will be easy to find and address in later drafts and that they won’t clutter the reading experience.

All the little asides and thoughts and ideas that pop up during the first draft can be tucked away in notes, without breaking the writing flow.

The inline notes in [[brackets]] are especially helpful when writing comedy; you can insert as many alternate lines as you want and they won’t interrupt the reading flow in the Preview mode (unless you want to share the alts with the reader).

The Navigator and Sidebar

The sidebar has five tabs:

  • Navigator
  • Bin
  • Statistics
  • Assets
  • Scratchpad

The Navigator in Highland is fixed.

In Final Draft, the Navigator floats around and I found myself constantly moving it around, resizing it, and hiding the pieces that I didn’t need. The first 15 seconds of any writing session were usually spent adjusting the Navigator because Final Draft doesn’t always (ever?) remember how you like your Navigator. It was a pain in the ass.

Not to mention the clutter:

Does anyone use the Scriptnotes feature? Does anyone use the “Character Arc Beat” text box when you click on the Characters tab? Or anything in the Characters tab? Look, I don’t want to hate on anyone’s writing process — if those features help you, then that’s great. For me, they were just more clutter that I wanted to get rid of.

The navigator is a live-updating outline, which is highly customizable. You can choose what gets displayed there: sections, scene headers, synopses, notes, included files, images, inline links, reference links, and markers.

The next pane in the Sidebar is the Bin. You can select any block of text from the script and drag it over to the bin and it will save the block in the bin and remove it from the script.

I really love this feature — in Final Draft when I had alternate dialogue or a scene that I wanted to cut, I would open up a new Final Draft file and drop it in there (using one big document for all the removed scenes or sandbox dialogue).

One thing about the Bin is that I wish I could tag or categorize the snippets, like #dialogue, #scene, etc. I can do this manually by editing an item in the bin and adding “#dialogue” to the beginning and then use the filter option to find everything in the bin that contains “#dialogue,” but it would be nice to be prompted for a tag or label as soon as I dropped a block into the bin.

The last three Sidebar tabs are for Statistics, Assets and Notes. I haven’t really used these features yet.

Assets are any images or other files (I’m not sure what other kinds of files would go in here) that have been added to the document.

The Notes tab is a scratchpad, where you can jot down anything you like. So far, I’ve only been using the Notes, Synopses, and Omits in the Editor, but I could see using the Scratchpad if I wanted to make a little to-do list or write bigger-picture notes that didn’t have to do with a specific scene.

I find the Statistics tab to be helpful, but not really mind-blowing:

The goal feature is fun, but it seems like something that would be more helpful for a novelist. I’ve never really set goals of x pages per day because it doesn’t seem meaningful to me.

When writing a rough draft, it’s easy to spit out five or ten pages in a morning, but most of the writing process is rewriting the first draft, and then page count becomes kind of a meaningless metric.

On the other hand, Highland has another statistics tool called Gender Analysis:

Obviously this won’t tell you if your script is sexist or if your female characters are all MPDGs, but it does give you a nice view of the gender balance in terms of lines and words spoken.

Final Draft also has several reports, which I sometimes found helpful, specifically the Statistics report, which would show me how many lines each character had. Unfortunately, the UI for these reports was always a bit cumbersome.

Other Things I Like about Highland

Sprints

You can start a timer for a writing sprint and try to write as much as possible in that time. My first thought was “why do I need a button to do this, when I can just decide to write for the next 60 minutes on my own?”

But I gave it a try and I have to report that there is some kind of psychological trick that happens when I see the timer ticking down and I’m more likely to ignore distractions and keep writing. I guess there’s something about pre-committing to a 60-minute block of writing.

At the end of the sprint, it tells you how many words you wrote. I find that interesting, but once I move into rewriting mode, I don’t think it will be very helpful. There’s no good way to quantify “I made this scene better by restructuring it and rewriting the dialogue.”

Themes and Dark Mode

The Pro version of Highland 2 comes with ten beautiful visual themes: five light and five dark.

The free version only has one version, which happens to be my favorite.2

Multi-language support out of the box

Want to write some dialogue in another language? You don’t have to turn anything on or download any language dictionaries.

I realized this when I wrote a scene in Spanish and was surprised when not everything had been underlined with the dreaded red squiggly line. Some words were even being auto-corrected (!), like “montanas” auto-correcting to “montañas.”

Compare this with Final Draft, which is constantly throwing squiggly red lines under common English words.

And Highland seems to understand that characters do not speak in perfect English. Spoken phrases like “I dunno” or “gotcha” or “Ummm” are recognized as correct.

Sections

If you start a line with the # sign, a new section will be created. Start a line with a double pound sign (##) and it will create a sub-section.

This is great for outlining, act breaks, and keeping track of sequences or sub-sequences or whatever else you want to use to divide your script into sections.

And of course, these show up automatically in the Navigator.

Things I don’t love or would like to see

Page counts

One thing that I do prefer about Final Draft is that the Navigator shows the page count of every scene. I find that to be very helpful when trying to get a broader view of the script.

Sometimes I write really long scenes and it’s valuable to see that I have three 9-page scenes in a row, because I’ll probably want to break those up into smaller chunks or at least flag them for pacing issues.

Highland seems much less concerned with page counts, which I think is OK when writing a first draft, but will become more of an issue in later drafts.

If there’s one feature that I would be willing to pay more for right now, it would really like the ability to see the page count next to each scene heading in the Navigator.

Page locking and production drafts

This is one area where Final Draft excels.

When you lock the script as you’re going into production, scene and page numbers are preserved. How it works is slightly complicated and I never am quite sure that I am doing it right, but it’s an essential feature when you move from writing to production.

When I directed the feature film in June, there were many many small revisions in the couple of weeks leading up to the production and there were revisions made during production.

It’s really really nice to be able to make those revisions and not screw up the scene and page numbers of the script.

The reason is that the call sheets, shot lists, and other production documents all reference scene and page numbers. When the script is locked, you can make changes to one or more pages and then just print the new versions of those pages and insert those into your script binder.

Without page locking, if you delete a scene or extended a scene beyond its current page, then every change to the script could potentially shift the page number of every other scene. If that happens, then good luck keeping your call sheets synced up.3

Messing this up can lead to some massive headaches and even disasters (if you, for instance, get confused and forget to shoot a scene).

Highland is aware of this and they talk about it in their guide to switching from Final Draft to Highland 2:

Locked pages and colored revisions are specialized production features that are not wellsuited to Highland’s plain text philosophy. While it’s certainly feasible using hard-coded page breaks (===) and and custom headers, you’re generally better off jumping to Fade In or Final Draft for this tedious work, particularly if you’re cycling through multiple colored page revisions.

So it looks like this feature may not be coming. For writers working on production drafts, we’ll have to keep using Final Draft for the, uh, final drafts. Hey! The name is now literal!

Dialogue flow

One thing that I really love about Final Draft is that the flow of writing a scene feels faster, especially when writing 2-handers. The software guesses which character is going to speak next and I can just hit TAB and the character’s name pops up and I hit enter and it accepts the suggested name.

Highland does suggest names once you’re on a new line and you type the first letter(s) of the name in caps, but it’s slightly more cumbersome and requires more keystrokes.

This means that sometimes I’m thinking of dialogue faster than I can type it and I wish that Highland was a little better at anticipating my next move.

Conclusion

I’ve committed to writing my next feature with Highland. It’s a much better writing experience and none of the drawbacks are enough to get me to keep using Final Draft.

Go try Highland or check out the rote a free 39-page booklet on switching from Final Draft to Highland 2.


  1. I honestly can’t remember what version I was using. 

  2. I can’t find a full comparison of the free vs. pro version so I may be wrong about this. 

  3. Maybe fancy productions have software that handles all of this? I don’t know, I use Google Docs. 

Newsletter: Berlin + Feature Film Update

Reposted from today’s newsletter:

It’s December and for most Chicagoans that means turning inward to look deep inside ourselves and ask the age-old question: am I really going to do this fucking winter thing again?

“No! No, I am not!” I declared to myself while waiting for Amazon autoplay to kick in the next episode of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

I am going somewhere that is two degrees warmer on average, slightly less windy, but even grayer and rainier. That place is Berlin and I hear that it is NOT lovely this time of year. I don’t care. Coffee tastes better in the winter. And it’s a great time to GET STUFF DONE.

Anyway, I’m going for a month.

// still-untitled feature film update

I spent a weekend in November in NYC with Anna, the editor. The movie is like almost there. I screened a rough cut for some friends this week and the consensus was “it’s like almost there, but here’s 20 things you should think about or change.”

So, back to editing. ETA is still TBD but looking at Q2 FY2019.

Also, I’m really proud of this movie! It’s really weird! I’m still very shocked but eternally grateful that my friends read the script and said “we should make this.” I think half of doing anything big is just having friends who will shrug their shoulders and say “yeah, why not?”

Here’s a picture of the production from when it was summer:

(photo by Jeanne Donegan)

Have you seen The Favourite yet? It’s so so funny. And good.

Withoutabox is dead.

Thanks to capitalist competition, Withoutabox has shuttered. Withoutabox was awful to use (although it had improved in the last couple of years).

I too cheer the success of FilmFreeway. I love the platform.

But I do wonder, in all the rejoicing, if anyone has stopped to think that…

FilmFreeway is now a monopoly.

Let’s hope they stay filmmaker-friendly. 

Screenwriting as a professional fascination

Screenwriting, as a professional fascination, is built on desires for personal approval that can be as fruitless and full of wish-thinking as gambling-addiction. Screenwriting is not filmmaking, it’s a part of filmmaking, it’s one of the blueprints, but it is not a good litmus test for the quality of a movie, clearly; Studios sign huge checks to great screenplays to then receive the worst Rotten Tomatoes scores in history. The Thunder Road Screenplay received multiple 3/10 ratings on The Blacklist. Yesterday, The Academy’s screenplay library reached out to have it added to their collection. The screenplay for Dunkirk is 70 pages. The only thing (Academy Award Winning Screenwriter) Diablo Cody knew about screenwriting when she wrote Juno was that “the dialogue is in the middle.” It’s ok to suck at writing screenplays if you know what will make a great movie and if you want to understand how people engage with movies in 2018, don’t study the script for Seabiscuit, get a Reddit Account like a normal person.

Jim Cummings

Shout it from the rooftops!

I really like what Jim has to say about independent filmmaking. It’s refreshing and intelligent.

The crap +1 fallacy

Another gem I picked up at Austin Film Festival: the crap +1 fallacy.

The fallacy is that you see a bad movie and think that all you have to do to succeed is write something a little better. 

It’s a fallacy because you can’t see the myriad reasons why the movie didn’t end up well–the missteps, the studio interference, actor problems, mistakes, and concessions that made a bad movie out of a good script. Your screenplay isn’t competing with the crappy final version of a movie — it’s competing with the good script that got mangled after it was purchased.

I get this completely, but I have seen films at festivals where I thought “oh, I can make something better than this” and that has been an effective motivator for me at times. 

The Not Actually Crap corollary: the movie was bad but made a ton of money. Sure, to your refined taste it was an artistic failure, but to the fat cat investors it was a resounding success.

Also known as You Are Not the Audience (YANTA). Hint: the audience is probably teenage boys or Chinese moviegoers.





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