SPMD – ScreenPlay MarkDown

Stu at Prolost.com posted a proposal for SPMD, a lightweight markup language for the classic screenplay format, inspired by Markdown.

The purpose of SPMD is to enable writers to focus on the writing, rather than fiddling with buttons and extra keyboard shortcuts to format the sluglines, characters, dialogue, transitions etc. I know it’s easy to just do e.g. Ctrl/Cmd-1 to format a line into a Slugline in Celtx, but that’s still an extra effort and definitely something that takes focus from the writing, even though it might seem trivial.

Instead, SPMD relies on a few basic rules, for instance:

A Scene Heading, or “slugline,” is any line that has a blank line following it, and either begins with INT or EXT, or has two empty lines preceding it. A Scene Heading always has at least one blank line preceding it.

A typical  slugline like this would become correctly formatted:
But it could also be written without caps, as stated:

1. Scene Heading Prefixes

Case insensitive.

  • INT.{space}
  • EXT.{space}
  • INT./EXT.{space}
  • INT/EXT.{space}
  • INT{space}
  • EXT{space}
  • INT/EXT{space}
  • I/E{space}

The rests of the SPMD format, it’s RfC if you will, is outlined here: http://prolost.com/storage/downloads/spmd/SPMD_proposal.html. It’s highly effective for those who decide to master it, and has great potential to become an efficient writing tool!

Once done writing – and that includes a wide margin of procrastination regardless of writing-application – an SPMD-supported application can pick up the text file and convert it straight to a properly formatted screenplay, to a PDF document for instance. Screenplain is one of those. This is an open source python application written by Marting Vilcans. He has also posted a basic (and free!) cloud version of Screenplain, e.g. and online SPMD file formatter, using Google’s App Engine, here: https://screenplain.appspot.com/.

The advantage is clear; any text file editor will do, on any device. Very portable. Very easy. Envision using a combination of your iPad/iDevice, PC, Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, GoogleDocs, MS Word*, *nix, emacs, Apple Pages*, LibreOffice*, nano, vi — whatever and wherever! Put your file in an online share, like Dropbox, or check it in on Github, a Subversion repo, use a private Pastebin or a Wiki or whatever you like!

So everybody doesn’t have all those options, apart from us geeks, but anyone who partners up with another writer (or writers), or have that idea when they don’t have anything to scribble on…

Yup, you got it. Enter SPMD!

As of right now the only commercial screenplay application I’ve found supporting SPMD is Fade In (FI), but I hope the other ones including Celtx will catch up soon. It should be trivial to add SPMD as an import option, but the ultimate goal would be to have SPDM as the on-the-fly WYSIWYG editor view. Note that both Celtx and Final Draft already does a decent job of tidying up an SPMD-formatted text file, but it still requires manual clean-up.


* NB: Provided you save the file as a plain text file, not as .doc, .rtf etc.