You might have heard about it, the easy yet elegant screenwriting text format called Fountain.
For those not in the know, Fountain is simplistic mark-up language, somewhat related to the WikiText-style used when editing pages on Wikipedia. I’ve covered it previously when it was called SPMD and later changed it’s name.
Fountain is not a complicated programming language or a cumbersome mark-up like HTML – it is designed to be out of the way and let the writer put the text down in a flow. It’s awesome: you can edit and develop your screenplays from ANY device, on ANY platform, as long as it can handle plain-text files! I have yet to see a user interface that doesn’t, regardless if it is a computer, smartphone, tablet or whatever.
Imagine yourself just pouring out your words in any old text-editor, like Notepad++, vi, TextEdit etc. in a manner that has a very basic resemblance to a real screenplay —
INT. SOME HOUSE - DAY White fluffy clouds outside the windows. The sound of the KETTLE WHISTLE says it's time for tea. DANIEL (O.S.) Where's the milk, honey?
The above was made in Notepad++. I wrote the capitals out, I added a few tabs before the character and dialog, and with some imagination it almost reads like a properly formatted screenplay already. It was very easy to write, and Fountain can handle it.
But some writers don’t need to ”see” the formatting, or have the possibility to hit the Tab-key from any device. At least not without first getting into a complex fingerspitzenwaltz.
It doesn’t matter. Fountain reads it fine anyway. You can do it like this too, like it would be written on my iPhone without clunky efforts of capitalization:
Int. Some house - day White fluffy clouds outside the windows. The sound of the kettle whistle says it's time for tea. DANIEL (O.S.) Where's the milk, honey?
Watch out for Auto-correct, though.
Notice that ugly slug? Fountain understands you. But you do need to distinguish between a character and the slug, e.g. A Character element is any line entirely in uppercase, with one empty line before it and without an empty line after it.
Fountain’s syntax is not complicated and you don’t need the reference around that long before you ”get it”. Because it really is that simple. As expected, when converted from Fountain to the Hollywood standard format, it turns out just as it should:
INT. SOME HOUSE – DAY
White fluffy clouds outside the windows. The sound of the KETTLE WHISTLE says it’s time for tea.
Where’s the milk, honey?
Because that is Fountain’s job. If you follow it, it takes you to Hollywood.
Wait, Fountain is already in Hollywood? Do I take it north or south or what?
Every day use
As much as I have come to love Fountain, there exists some quirks that should be noted.
Writing a set of pages, I find myself unaware of how long my action lines really are. After while I do get a sense, but unless I use a very specific text editor, with a fixed width and font subject to screenwriting standards, I need to check in and convert the document every every now and then for trimming.
Those sentences that are simply too long, or just that few syllables too much to be broken into a new line. It could be like this in your text editor (go on, it doesn’t scroll long!):
.INT. MEETING ROOM - DAY A man stands at a trolley with coffee. This is PROFESSOR LUNDMAN (60), an authoritarian academic in charge of Jason’s investigation. His black shoes does not match his brown suit, though the red bow tie is really what stands out.
When formatted from Fountain to screenplay it becomes:
INT. MEETING ROOM – DAY
A man stands at a trolley with coffee. This is PROFESSOR LUNDMAN (60), an authoritarian academic in charge of Jason’s investigation. His black shoes does not match his brown suit, though the red bow tie is really what stands out.
That’s way too long. Perhaps one of those things one can get used to by practicing much, but if I see such a block of text formatted in a screenplay application my brain immediately wants to correct it!
INT. MEETING ROOM – DAY
A man pours himself coffee. This is PROFESSOR LUNDMAN (60), an authoritarian academic in charge of Jason’s investigation. Fashion is not his thing, though the bow tie makes a statement.
There, I fixed it. Well, at least it got down to four rows.
Perhaps it’s just me, but eventually, a lot of time is spent on trimming and re-writing rather than keeping steady on the story. This is moot to the idea of writing in any text-editor on any device, but as long as these notes are made on-the-fly, there’s no reason to be scared off. That trimming would have been done anyway, just more effective.
Also, if one chooses to use a dedicated Fountain-supported editor, like John August’s Highland, the formatting is shown side-by-side almost as we type. But Highland only exist on the Mac. If one does not usually work on a Mac, it becomes cumbersome, at least until a similar piece of software is released on Windows and Linux. I hope that day is getting closer.
A request to screenplay application developers
First, have your software support importing Fountain spec’d text files. Then, include an optional ”I’m feeling lucky”-function, one that tries to correct uppercase on the first letter in a sentence coming on a new line. Writing in a flow on e.g. a phone doesn’t always autocorrect that first letter.
It would also be get lucky and fix characters like ”DANIEL (V.o.)” or ”DANIEL (vo)” to output the proper ”DANIEL (V.O.)”. (You noticed the case insensitivity, right?)
As it stands, I think Fountain is great when developing ideas and starting off on scenes. So far I’ve written about 30 pages in Fountain for a short novella screenplay and about the same on a draft feature.
My senses already tell me that there would be a lot of work of trimming and re-writing if I had continued to a full feature length around 110 pages. As an experiment I dare not import that feature project, aka ”The Heist Movie”, into i.e. Celtx, Trelby or other screenplay applications until I have made it through the first draft!
Once I format that screenplay feature in Fountain format to proper standards through e.g. Screenplain.com or imported to Celtx from .txt (with manual labor added), I don’t feel the urge to go back to that Fountain text file again. It has served its purpose already, even though the screenplay draft is still not complete.
But I am positive I’ve found a great way to start off! Soon I will ”get it” and get used to it ever more.