If you’re like me, you have tried dozens of apps and workflows to manage to get a properly formatted screenplay. I personally don’t like the Courier-style format and do all my writing using a theme I developed. But most partners you will meet while producing your film will ask for a script formatted according to the industry standard.
I am not on Mac, and I have tried everything out there for Windows and Linux ; the most popular option seems to be Celtx. I have used it a few years ago and didn’t really like it. But it’s worse today, I can’t download a Linux version and their web app doesn’t work (at least for me). I installed the Windows version, which requires an internet access just to export your script as a PDF file. For me, that’s a sign the Celtx team is not trying to build the best possible app, but just to achieve whatever their goals are, regardless of the users’ preferences.
Any other app I have tried is either unstable, ugly or messy (which makes me waste time). But very recently, I stumbled upon Fountain, which promises to solve all my problems. It’s not an app, it’s free and it’s open-source.
So, what is it if not an app ? It simply is a language specifically designed for writing screenplays. Basically, you just have to respect a certain syntax, and you get a properly formatted screenplay. And here are the good parts :
- It’s open-source. That means that you don’t have to rely on a software that will become paying or obsolete tomorrow. You can switch apps and devices when you want, and even write with your favorite text editor.
- The syntax is super easy. If you are familiar with Markdown for writing HTML code, it’s even easier. For example, anything starting with INT or EXT is recognized as a scene heading, anything written uppercase is a character name, and so on.
- It’s compatible with most major screenwriting apps. Which means they can open and export your Fountain file.
I have been writing using Fountain for a few days now, and I really love its simplicity. I know I will never get stuck with a proprietary file format, and I can choose whatever text editor I want.
I had a little trouble getting started with it, though, so I will explain how it works here.
- Go to the Fountain.io website and check out the syntax page. You just need the first 5 elements (scene heading, character, parentheticals, dialogue and action). I have found that some apps require a dot after INT and EXT for scene headings (example : INT. DAY). Run some tests on a small excerpt of your script to make sure that the formatting is good.
- Write your screenplay with any text editor, or even a compatible screenwriting app (there is a list here).
- Save it as a .fountain file (for example : Screenplay.fountain), or export it as a Fountain file if you are using a screenwriting app.
- Import your Fountain file to any compatible app and you can export it as a PDF file. I have found that only WriterDuet is working how I want. I only use it to make PDF exports, and it works great. Amazon Storyteller looks really nice, but for some reason, it interprets my whole script as a dialogue. Nothing I could try would change its mind.
That’s it ! Go check out Fountain.io for all the syntax rules and more information. They even have a real-time editor if you want to quickly try it.