Winnipeg! Important stuff afoot! The digitally restored version of Crime Wave will screen in Winnipeg, prefaced by a panel that I shall moderate, all part of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Winnipeg Film Group!

At 5 p.m., I will moderate a panel featuring Dave Barber, Steve Gravestock, Midi Onodera, John Paizs, and Geoff Pevere about 1980s Canadian cinema. Here’s the rundown:

The 1980s were a frontier of new opportunity for Canadian filmmaking. This period saw the rise of an unprecedented number of acclaimed Canadian filmmakers whose stature remains uncontested today. The vast majority of them have their roots within the film production centre system.

The Toronto New Wave and Prairie Post Modernism were two filmmaking movements of the 1980s and early ’90s that characterize this era in Anglo-Canadian cinema. New funding and programming initiatives promoted the trajectories of these independent Canadian directors, many of whom remained working in Canada.

This panel will consider the unique conditions that existed at the time to foster the talents of the independent Anglo-Canadian directors of the 1980s and early ’90s, as well as their collective influence on the generations of filmmakers that came after them.

At 7 p.m., the restored Crime Wave will screen, with filmmaker John Paizs in attendance. It’s going to be great! Don’t miss out. I literally wrote the book on this film, and even if you have seen it a hundred times like I have, the newly restored version is a revelation.



Date: May 6, 2015
Time: 5:00 p.m. (panel) / 7:00 (Crime Wave screening)
Event: Crime Wave, Prairie Post Modernists & New Wave Pioneers: 1980s Cinema
Sponsor: Winnipeg Film Group
Venue: Winnipeg Cinematheque
Location: 100 Arthur St.
Winnipeg, MB

“Screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss controversy over the authorship of Gravity”

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10 February 2015

My favourite writing podcast is Scriptnotes, a podcast about “screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters,” and this episode is worth any writer’s while — even if you are NOT a screenwriter.

Screenwriters John August (Big Fish, Go) and Craig Mazin (Hangover 2 & 3, Identity Thief) discuss recent controversy concerning the authorship of the movie Gravity and its alleged basis in a novel. Authors of novels and of screenplays may be surprised at how they dissect this case.

This is an especially instructive lesson on film properties and any author that might ever be in a position to sell film rights (i.e., any publishing author), or any author that might be hired to adapt an “underlying property,” can learn a lot from this.

They also give a tidy explanation of what the word “attached” means. This is usually confusing for writers, because of how it gets reported in the media. (In a nutshell, you should always ignore any reports of anyone being “attached” to anything.)

Should smoking in movies receive an 18A rating?

On the Charles Adler show again (AM 680 CJOB in Winnipeg) to talk with Brenda Austin-Smith about a push in Ontario to give films that feature tobacco use an “18A” rating.

“hopefully one day Hollywood platitudes of overcoming adversity will be replaced with grinding reality & the laughter of the damned”
15 January 2015

“When Guy Maddin wins an Oscar, then I’ll start caring who wins Oscars.”

Charles Adler was nice enough to invite me on his CJOB radio show to discuss the Academy Awards — a mistake he will never make again! Things heat up around 5:40. Always fun to chat with the fine folks at CJOB!

CRIME WAVE is on iTunes Canada!

This glorious masterpiece has finally gotten its digital due! Be sure to watch CRIME WAVE, the only film that I wrote a whole book about! It’s featured on iTunes and is a comic masterpiece, a true cult classic! This is the RESTORED version that screened at TIFF! A VAST improvement of its colour and sound! If only I had this version available to me when I wrote the book! I would have written another 100 pages!

Loyal film fans should make every effort to buy this film from iTunes. The only hope this film has for a DVD or Blu-ray release is probably a surprising performance digitally, and there is SO MUCH STUFF that could end up on an AMAZING DVD or Blu-ray … like an entirely different ending to the film, the outstanding shorts films Paizs made, and a documentary about the making-of the film that Bravo! made years ago (I’ve got a cameo in it).

If anyone reading this works at Criterion or another releaser and happens to have the ear of a DVD/Blu-ray releaser, maybe put them in touch with eOne and/or Paizs and skip this whole iTunes thing … but short of that, the best thing you can do for CRIME WAVE appears to be to buy it off iTunes, or tell somebody else to buy it off iTunes, or offer it a review on iTunes.

CRIME WAVE! iTunes! Capitalism!!!!

Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama

Guy Maddin, Winnipeg’s own living film legend, kindly answered some of my questions about writing melodrama and his latest feature film, The Forbidden Room, which will have its world premiere at Sundance next month. Here’s the Sundance summary for you:

“The Forbidden Room” (Canada) (Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Screenwriters: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk) — A submarine crew, a feared pack of forest bandits, a famous surgeon and a battalion of child soldiers all get more than they bargained for as they wend their way toward progressive ideas on life and love. Cast: Geraldine Chaplin, Caroline Dhavernas, Roy Dupuis, Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Karine Vanasse.

Those unfamiliar with Maddin’s work should rethink their life choices — I will simply note that, since completing his first film in 1985, Guy Maddin has produced one of the most fascinating and unique bodies of work in film history, in addition to developing a substantial career as an installation artist and author. In 2012, he was appointed to the Order of Canada, which is the country’s highest civilian honour.

I’ve previously interviewed Maddin and his usual screenwriting partner, George Toles, and also written about my visit to the set of his film The Saddest Music in the World (where I met Isabella Rossellini!) — so you may want to check out those posts when you’re finished with this one.

You should also check out the “living poster” for The Forbidden Room as well!

What can you tell me about your forthcoming feature film, The Forbidden Room?

The Forbidden Room, my 11th feature, was just completed and will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2015. It is blessed with some of my favourite actors: Roy Dupuis, Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin, Maria de Medeiros, Adele Haenel, Sophie Desmarais, Ariane Labed, Jacques Nolot, fantastic newcomer Clara Furey (who is such a star!), and of course my longstanding muse, Louis Negin, WHO HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER.

It was shot entirely in the studio, or in many small studios, but, strangely, in public studios, over three weeks at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and another three weeks at the Centre PHI in Montreal, where any visitor to those institutions could simply walk up and watch us shoot, watch the movie’s stars act, at very close range.

I think this is by far the best picture I’ve ever made. (I hope I’m right.) It was so strange to script a movie that would be shot in public, that would make sense to the public on any given day, and then later still make sense all pieced together in one coherent feature. And the movie is in fullest, fuller-than-full colour — more colourful than any other movie ever made. How’s that, you ask? I’m feeling very proud now, like I’ve finally figured it all out, this filmmaking business. Of course I had a lot of help from wonderful collaborators.

What is the connection between The Forbidden Room and your ongoing Seances project?

Well, they were both shot in public in Paris and Montreal, but there are big differences between the two. While The Forbidden Room is a feature film with its own separate story and stars, Seances will be an interactive Internet project, something that anyone online can visit and play with. It’s produced by the sexy new incarnation of The National Film Board of Canada. I never thought I’d use the word sexy to describe the NFB, but it’s so amazing now.

The Seances interactive will launch in 2015, shortly after The Forbidden Room is released. I’ll describe the workings of Seances next interview, closer to launch date. I can say that the museum installation in which we shot all our footage was called Spiritismes in Paris, and Seances in Montreal, but Seances is the final and only title now.

It’s a place — a dark place! — where anyone online can hold “séances” with the spirits of cinema, lost and forgotten cinema. The Seances project has really evolved in recent months. It was going to be title-for-title remakes of specific lost films, but we found as we went that the spirits of many other lost movies, and the spirit of loss in general, haunted our sets and demanded to be represented in front of our cameras.

I’m really excited about the results. No one knows, in spite of what might have been previously reported on Wikipedia and even in earlier interviews with me, what’s finally going to launch (I must keep it under my chapeau for now), but I feel we have something original on our hands — all this boasting, I’m so sorry! I’m not usually like this.

But Noah Cowan, back when he was one of the directors at the Toronto International Film Festival, told me he didn’t think it was possible to make art on the Internet. That comment, from my dear friend, whom I owe $60 by the way, reminded me of what people said about cinema when it was starting out, when the moviolas and kinetoscopes were considered artless novelties, so I felt the challenge to do this, to make Internet art, to really reach everyone out there online who might be inclined to like my stuff.

So while I shot the two projects at the same time, and under the same lost cinema spell, The Forbidden Room and Seances are two distinct entities, on two distinct platforms. I might add, that part of that Seances evolution involved a few planned elements falling away — not even vestigial traces remain of some of the limbs and flippers which I once thought so important to the project. At one point we had planned a theatric release of feature-length live seances, involving a lot of monitoring of audience attention by sensors placed among the seats. We feel now we need to keep it simple and online. As well, the films shot for the Seances will NEVER exist as stand-alone shorts. They will only be broken up into fragments and placed in the Seances program for recombinations and endless permutations for the visitors to the interactive.

How did the writing process for The Forbidden Room and the Seances project differ from your previous films?

Since the beginning I’d always written with my best friend, George Toles. When I started this project, lost film was a pet obsession of mine. I started the writing process alone, way back in 2010. I had no idea where I wanted it to go. I just knew I wanted to adapt as short films a bunch of long lost feature films — if only to finally get to watch some facsimile of a movie otherwise inaccessible.

Almost every director whose career straddles the silent/talkie era has a number of lost films on his or her filmography. Some poor directors have lost entire bodies of work, though they aren’t alive any more to grieve over this. I wanted to shoot my own versions, as if I were reinterpreting holy texts, and present them to the world anew as reverent and irreverent glosses on the missing originals. I hired a former student of mine, Evan Johnson, as my research assistant, and he got into the project so much that he soon became my screenwriting partner. He brought on his friend Bob Kotyk to help, and soon the three of us got a lovely writing chemistry going.

It helped that they were young and unemployed and had all the time in the world and little interest in money. Because the project soon got very large. Every day we discovered more and more fascinating things about lost cinema, every day the conceptual tenets of the interactive and the feature evolved, became complicated, tangled themselves up in our ardent thoughts, and then suddenly became simple. It was kind of a miracle the way we figured it all out, whatever “it” is!

Evan started to surpass me in critical and conceptual thinking. I wasn’t jealous, just grateful. I asked George back to join us, but I know I had hurt his feelings by starting up without him. Thank God we remain friends. My wife Kim Morgan and I wrote three days worth of shooting material as well — that was a blast. And even the great great GREAT American poet John Ashbery chipped in with an enormous contribution, a screenwriting and literary event that gave me gooseflesh of awe and soiled shorts — shat drawers of awe.

At one point, if I remember correctly, you were planning to shoot the Seances films Factory-style, in a Warhol-like process. How and why did you abandon that idea? 

Well, I never really abandoned the Seances. They were called Hauntings back in 2010, when I first took a stab at shooting adaptations of lost films, but once completed these were to be installation loops rather than short films. I did complete eleven of them for Noah Cowan, who installed them as projections for the opening of his Bell Lightbox Building, the nerve centre of TIFF. I deputized a bunch of talented young filmmakers I had met in my travels to shoot these Hauntings in a “Factory” situation.

My writing partner Evan Johnson ran the movie manufacturing plant under the job description Hauntings Coordinator. Our production designer, Galen Johnson, made him a business card that read:

Screenshot 2014-12-05 16.38.46

His job was to keep churning out movies with a team of filmmakers of wildly disparate styles and talents, hired to direct a bunch of films all at once, all in the same room. This was a chaotic situation. I think before this Evan’s biggest professional responsibility had been pouring toxic detergent into Rug Doctor machines. But he kept this wild affair going for a few weeks while I directed Keyhole.

It was genuinely surreal watching all those silent films get shot, sometimes as many as six at a time, a row-upon-row productivity resembling, I imagine, those porn factories of urban legend. Ah, silent film, post-dubbed porn! I really wish we’d made our Hauntings Factory into the setting of a reality show. It looked and sounded so eerie, hearing almost nothing, while each in its own little circle of light a half dozen films made themselves in an otherwise dark room. We were going to shoot a lot of titles — a hundred! — but we were underprepared and definitely underfinanced, so we aborted the project after we had finished enough movies for Noah.

Evan was stripped of his Hauntings Coordinator epaulettes — disgraced! But shortly after he became my full partner on these new projects. He is my co-director on both The Forbidden Room and the Seances. His brilliant brother Galen came on as my new production designer for these projects as well. He’s such a stunning graphic artist that I found new joy in writing text for the films — intertitles in deepest purple!

Screenshot 2014-12-05 16.28.45

What more can you tell me about your writing process for The Forbidden Room and how it differed from your process on previous films?

It was pretty much the same as with George. We found ideas we liked, argued and wrote. I really like to collaborate. I can’t write alone. I’m amazed I can even answer these questions alone.

What are your current plans for the Seances website/app?

The technicians at the NFB have cooked up some incredibly cinematic doodads for this super-sophisticated app. When all the kinks are worked out, which will be sometime early in the new year, movies will be watched in ways that perhaps the chestnutty old metaphors of cinema long ago ordained movies should be watched, in ways that surpass mere streaming, something more haunted, like ghost or soul streaming!

You’re a writer, but as a filmmaker you also work with and hire other writers. What do you look for in a writer?

I don’t have that much experience working with other writers, just George, Bob, Evan, Kim and Ashbery. Each is his or her own person, with incredible strengths, and, of course, varying sensibilities and sensitivities. I’m very good at inadvertently hurting people’s feelings, so that’s always a concern, but collaborators need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Saving feelings MUST come second to the work at hand.

I guess with John Ashbery we just let him do whatever he wanted to do because I revere him so much, and what he delivered was so gorgeous. So I guess I look for bright, funny and gracious souls. And I like hard workers because I can be very lazy. The ambitious shame me into working harder. Sometimes they even have to nag me. I never have to nag them.

Psychological realism still holds sway, tyrannically, even amongst writers and filmmakers that are not otherwise interested in realism, but you consciously work to create melodramatic characters and situations. Mostly, writers work to avoid melodrama — Why write melodrama?

I think it’s easier to achieve psychological realism with melodramatic methods. Think of the psychological plausibility, or truth, in the greatest old fairy tales, the Bible, in Euripides, in a Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck film, in Expressionist painting — in cave painting! There is every bit as much truth in these works as in all of Chekov, and more than in a security camera feed.

And surface realism does not guarantee psychological truth. I think it merely misleads the viewer into thinking he beholds reality, when in fact the story beneath the surface might be very dishonest. I’ve always defined melodrama as the truth uninhibited, liberated, not the truth exaggerated as most people feel. I just watched John Waters’ Female Trouble — not realistic at all on the surface, but pure truth to its toxically melodramatic core.

What ruins melodrama? What should a writer of melodrama work to avoid? 

Same thing that ruins all bad art, I guess: charmless dishonesty. There can be horrible melodrama too. I don’t like all of it. I just adore it when it’s done well. It feels more universal. I like all sorts of narrative genres, I don’t limit my tastes to one brushstroke.

I’m a bit puzzled by people who eschew all melodrama. Don’t they realize they’re watching it in almost everything they view? Especially in reality television, which is usually, but not always, bad melodrama, but also in the straightest most “realistic” movies. There melodrama thrives in disguise.

Isn’t all art the truth uninhibited to some degree? Sure, some art is the truth mystified, but honesty is usually exposed in some, sometimes inscrutable, way.

What is the key to writing strong melodrama?

I’m not sure, we’re still trying to do it. I would imagine even the great screenwriters and directors would admit it’s different each time out, that sometimes it works and other times merely dullness results.

I interviewed you years ago and remember you saying that you hoped to one day write a book — at the time you’d just published your second book. You still talk often of wanting to write a book (even though you’ve now published three). To what degree do you think of yourself as a writer, or perhaps as a struggling writer, and what you can tell me about your approach to writing? 

I am always going to be an aspiring writer, just as I’m an aspiring filmmaker. I don’t mean this to sound like false modesty; many people would agree with the “aspiring” part. I just think it’s the best attitude to have.

And, yes, I dream of someday writing a book, a really slender book, with a double-spaced novella inside. I think if I keep on learning, and get lucky, I just might have one in me. Probably just one.

My Screenwriting Workflow

Sometimes I’m asked about my workflow for screenwriting — what software I use, and so forth. Although I have tried many combinations, at present I just use and recommend two programs: Scrivener (where I do ALL of my writing) and Highland.

(From time to time, I also use the Notes application on my iPad or iPhone, but then I dump that into Scrivener.)

The nutshell is that I plan and write everything in Scrivener and then output it to Highland to polish and format. The details are below, including a bit of my history with other software and other ways of working.

Final Draft

I first began screenwriting while studying under George Toles (the co-screenwriter of many Guy Maddin movies) at the University of Manitoba, in the early 2000s. I met David Navratil in that class, and somehow we ended up getting hired as screenwriting partners by Joseph Novak, to write some samurai movies.

We were “hired” for very little money, but nevertheless were hired, and wrote four feature-length films for Joe. All of the films were based on his story ideas, which we then developed and reworked.

The first of these scripts, Son of the Storm, captured the interest of a Hollywood producer and also the actor Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa. However, the story was too similar to Tom Cruise’s movie The Last Samurai, and the main character (like Cruise’s, a white foreigner) wasn’t a role for Hiroyuki-Tagawa.

So, we wrote a second feature called Way of the Samurai. This script secured the “attachment” of Hiroyuki-Tagawa, but ultimately didn’t find funding. We wrote two more features, which had samurai elements but were more modern in their settings: Yakuza and Samurai on 47th. Then we more or less stopped writing samurai films.

Joe later ended up taking Way of the Samurai and reworking the script as a western, then shot the feature as a micro-budgeted independent film called Snake River. That’s how we ended up with a very strange credit, to the effect that the screenplay of Snake River was based on a screenplay that we wrote.

All of these movies were written in Final Draft. Thus began my love-hate affair with Final Draft. At the time, there were no real competitors for Final Draft. The very expensive Final Draft. (Although I have always paid either a student or an educator rate, rather than the full rate, it’s a pricey program even at these discounts.)

At the time, Final Draft was pricey but a godsend. I wrote many other things in Final Draft, including my M.A. thesis (a screenplay called The Sandman). However, as the years passed, and I purchased subsequent editions of Final Draft, I noticed that the program seemed to be getting worse and worse. I also noticed that it had garnered some serious competitors.

Other Programs

I have tried many other screenwriting programs over the years (I forget most of them) but the only viable competitor in my view was CeltX. Still, my affair with CeltX was fairly brief. At the time, it was a good program, but very much a poor man’s Final Draft.

Now, it has blossomed into a much more impressive flower. CeltX is an online software system and also offers a host of desktop software. Generally speaking, CeltX is also much less expensive than Final Draft, although it is now also a subscription service and so could easily cost much more, since it has been restructured as your monthly “screenwriting bill.”

While I don’t have extensive experience with CeltX, every now and again over the years I decide to try out its newer incarnation. I start using it, and then find myself drifting back to Final Draft.

I also tried out a host of other programs. For a long time, I was writing mostly in SuperNotecard and SuperNotecard for Scriptwriting.

For a while I was addicted to StorySkeleton, which I began using on the recommendation of David Annandale. This was in a period where I had a desktop PC and a PC laptop, but found myself doing most of my writing on my iPad.

What kept driving me from program to program (and also, in my non-screenwriting writing, driving me away from Word) was a simple goal: I wanted to get away from writing linearly. All of my books had been struggles to write, in part because of how non-linearly I work in my creative process, and I was finding screenplays harder to write as well. Then I discovered Scrivener.


Scrivener changed my entire writing life. I now write everything in Scrivener, and proselytize annoyingly to everyone about how they should write everything in Scrivener. I’m going to make a point to not talk forever about Scrivener in this post, but it’s important to note that Scrivener comes with a screenwriting template.

I do all my screenwriting in Scrivener now, but I don’t use any of its screenwriting functions, or this template. You could, however.

Scrivener is in many ways the perfect program, but it has two weaknesses. One, it’s difficult to learn. There’s an incredible online course that simplifies the process of learning Scrivener and I highly recommend it. The course is well worth the cost for all the time and frustration it will save you, and all the power of Scrivener that it will help you unlock. When you know how to use Scrivener, you can use it for almost everything, including writing screenplays.

(Two, it’s not great for working with an editor, when you arrive at the point where you are trading files. For this, for various depressing reasons, we are still stuck with Microsoft Word.)

However, I don’t use any of Scrivener’s screenplay functions. Instead, I write in Scrivener using something called Fountain syntax (it’s simpler than it sounds) and then export the text to Highland, which formats it like a screenplay. I then export out of Highland to whatever file format I need.

This process is much simpler than it sounds. It’s the simplest process I’ve found, and the least expensive. Here’s a more detailed look at how I work on scripts.

My Screenwriting Workflow

Scrivener was initially developed to write novels and dissertations, and one of its great strengths is that it allows you to hold all of your research materials in the same program as your actual writing. As a result, it allows a seamless flow between writing and consulting your research.

Every time I have to consult research materials as I write, I kick myself because I wrote five books without Scrivener (well, more like ten books … I don’t publish everything I write) and at least as many screenplays.

My method of writing is very non-linear, and so without Scrivener I was working in a super-inefficient manner, wasting months and months of time fighting to get my software to do what I wanted. I want to stab my past self for not switching to Scrivener sooner.

  • Plan out the story’s core structure in Scrivener’s index card view.

In the past, I used actual index cards, or a separate program, to map out and develop the story. Scrivener has an outstanding index card view that I will write about another day, which is especially useful in the planning and editing processes.

The great power of Scrivener, as I’ve mentioned, is how it encourages non-linear writing. You can jump between making notes, shuffling index cards, and writing actual scenes of the script easily. I will map the story structure using these cards, which (in other views) also contain all my notes for each scene and my drafts of the actual script as well.

  • Write in Scrivener using Fountain syntax.

This sounds much more complicated than it is. Fountain syntax is basically a way of writing that a software program (like Highland) can read. You can find a lot of information about Fountain here.

All you really need to understand is this basic concept: when you write a certain way, a program like Highland can “read” it. Let’s imagine that I wrote this (the screenshot is from Highland, but I could write this in any program — usually I’ll use Scrivener):

Screenshot 2014-10-02 09.47.35

We move on to our next step:


  • Export the text to Highland. All I do here is copy and paste the text from Scrivener to Highland. Then I save the file. Then, I press one button — this one:

Screenshot 2014-10-02 09.51.02

Then Highland automatically reformats the text in proper screenplay format, like this:

Screenshot 2014-10-02 09.47.56

That’s right. It takes this program a single click to reformat the above (Fountain syntax) text as a screenplay.

I do all my editing before this point. Basically, I only use a screenwriting program (Highland) when I’m ready to do a final pass/polish. If necessary, I make a slight modification or two in Highland (you just switch between the two views, of your text and your formatted text).

You could, of course, just write in Highland. If you like to write more linearly, Highland is perfect for you — you can write in the editor view where you don’t have to worry at all about your format, and then just click to the formatted view anytime you want to see how things look. You don’t have to worry about anything other than writing. The program automatically does all the formatting for you.

When I work with shorter scripts, or test scenes, I often just write directly in Highland. Due to its minimalist design and clean, intuitive interface, it’s the least complex and as a result the best and most enjoyable screenwriting program (yes, the emphasis in Highland is on writing — not on formatting or other non-essential tinkering).

I have to offer one caveat about Highland, however: it does not, currently, work well for writing multicam TV. This is because there are too many TV formats for (mostly) comedies, and although there is something approximating a “multicam format” there really is nothing in TV writing that is “standard” format.

Many TV dramas and single-cam shows just use a mild variation of standard screenplay format, so Highland works great for almost everything. But if you want to write a spec script for The Big Bang Theory then Highland isn’t for you, although the software’s developer (screenwriter John August — best known for writing various Tim Burton films) told me that they “will try to do multicam” in the future, so I expect this to become a nonissue.

(Since I’m working on a feature film project for the next while, and made the PC to Mac switch recently, I am currently without Final Draft. My hope is that this issue is resolved before it matters to me, so I can stick entirely with Scrivener+Highland for screenwriting rather than buying a Mac version of Final Draft or having to find another third program.)

Incidentally, this is why Highland is a great program, outside of how inexpensive it is compared to other programs. It was literally designed by a screenwriter for screenwriters. It’s easy to use. It’s streamlined and pretty. But most importantly, it contains nothing that you don’t absolutely need.

  • Export from Highland.

Highland easily exports out as various file types, so a few clicks are really all you need to pull your text from any program whatsoever (I use Scrivener, but you could use Word or even plain text on your phone) and reflow it all in standard screenplay format.

Here are the main benefits of this workflow:

  1. Its stripped-down simplicity. I worry this all sounds complicated, just because I’m explaining in some detail. In fact, this is the easiest, most stripped-down, straightforward screenwriting process I’ve discovered since I started screenwriting in the early 2000s. It takes me less than 30 seconds to take my unformatted text from Scrivener and pump a perfectly formatted file out of Highland.

  2. I don’t worry about formatting while I write. The most “formatting” you have to do when writing with the Fountain syntax is to hit shift, or enter, or add an asterisk … sometimes. Another core element of Scrivener is that it separates what you write from how it outputs the writing. You can write in a totally messed up way, with various fonts (twenty fonts per paragraph) or whatever serves your purposes, and then have the program normalize to one font when you output the text. I won’t go into details about that, but I will note that the idea behind using Fountain syntax, Scrivener, and a program like Highland is the same. You focus on writing — not formatting — and instead relegate all your formatting (and its time-sucking hellishness) to the very end of the project, when you let the software do the work.

  3. I can write in any program. I’m using Scrivener, but I don’t have to. I could write right in Highland, and sometimes do. I could write in my iPhone/iPad/Macbook “Notes” app, and sometimes do. I could write in Word (without playing around with margins, or ever hitting the Tab key) or any other text editor. I could email scenes to myself. As long as I use the Fountain syntax (which is extremely simple), I can use any text editor. This is how I make serious writing progress while riding the bus. I write scenes or snippets of scenes on my iPhone or iPad, then copy/paste those notes into Scrivener (I could skip the Scrivener step if I wanted). Then later on it all gets pasted into Highland. I don’t have to do anything fancy, just copy/paste — the software does all the formatting conversions.

  4. I can work as non-linearly as I want. I value being able to write any part of the script at any moment. Scrivener helps me hold and (re-)organize all these fragments into a whole, and Highland does my conversions. If you like writing linearly, you could just use Highland (or a similar program) and skip Scrivener. I love Highland’s minimalism, because Scrivener has all the complexity I need to write anything. I just don’t want to fight with Scrivener’s outputs to create a screenplay format, because in some ways Scrivener is too complex for screenwriting. I just dump my text into Highland and let it do all the formatting work for me rather than clicking a bunch of settings in Scrivener, or even bothering to learn how.

That’s my screenwriting workflow — let me know in the comments below if you recommend other programs, or other ways of working, or if you have any questions or advice.