Screenplay Software

Hm. What to choose?

The industry standard is “Final Act“. It’s $250, and I had the demo, but… yeah. It’s $250. I really liked it, but apparently a lot of people said it was buggy and crashed and did bizarre things.

One man who had Final Act and was tired of the bugginess and crashes of it wrote the next contender, “Fade In“. $80. Eighty is a lot better than two hundred and fifty. I’m currently using Fade In, but you quickly reach the nag point, and printing my script excerpt on Saturday left the bold announcement on it, “printed using an unregistered copy of Fade In”.


Scrivener people apparently rave about the Scrivener-like “Save the Cat“, which is a really odd name for software. It costs more than Final Act at $100.

Scrivener apparently also does screenplays, but I don’t know – It lacks the features of Fade In and Final Act – Enter, then tab, and it suggests who I’m probably about to have say something dramatic. Hit the enter twice, and the dialogue spacing is now active.

Scrivener doesn’t really do that. Scrivener is amazing for what it does, but I don’t see people using it to write feature films.

Which leaves me to wish that Final Act would get together with Fade In, fix the bugginess, and offer the program for $40.

Yes, Fade In is what the pro’s use. It’s so widely used, that I could collaborate with any pro screenwriter using it. And all the programs I just mentioned all use Final Draft extensions to save the file, so that you can mail it to someone who has paid the extra $170!

I guess it is what it is – if you’re going to play at writing screenplays, you gotta pay the piper, buy Final Act and (sigh) join the Writer’s Guild after your first sale.


Sending Off Your First Screenplay

Saturday, I sent off an excerpt of my first screenplay. I’m counting it this way because although I sold some scripts back in the 80’s, it was to a local independent film company trying to get established called “Two Guys Productions”, and I think it was more that my script was something that was currently popular in action films, inexpensive to film, and would give the company a product they could market – rather than the quality of my script.

But Saturday, I sent an excerpt off, not trying to sell my script, but to sell me. A new film company had put out the word they were looking for a screenplay writer, and I jumped on it.

So I sent Empty Hand, the life story of Gichin Funakoshi. It’s a drama, not a karate movie. Although there are scenes of Funakoshi training under Asato, there is no competition, no sparring, no dramatic fights. Funakoshi to my knowledge never once struck a man in anger. Those who knew him said it was a VERY good thing he never did, as it would have been terrible, even though he was a small man.

I finished up a few pages of it on Friday, sent off the excerpt (along with scenes from my books) to the film company. I felt good enough to take a couple of hours off, and sit and play Age of Empires.

Then the jitters hit. See, when you’re sending off your work for someone to decide if they’re going to hire you or not, or buy your product or not, the feeling is tantamount to, “Are you accepting me, or rejecting me?”

Rejection is terrible. Trust me, I know. You always get this feeling of “I don’t love you” when you get it.

But I’m sitting here lying to myself, because of the two scenes I sent off, one of them was the wrong scene. So now I’m sitting here and cheerfully telling myself I’ve hit a career milestone, and am eagerly anticipating my first rejection letter.

After all, every screenplay writer has been rejected at least once. I can think of one who actually was hired to write a movie because he’d done a script or two that was sold, and his script was deemed too strange, and it was promptly sent to another writer.

The director sat on the second script, and after a couple of years, felt that there was something unique about that script. He went back, and took all of the “Weird” parts of the first script, mixed it with the “Normal” parts of the second script, and one of my favorite movies was the result – “Patton”.

Or how about this story? A man writes his first movie script, in a genre that hadn’t been done in 30 years in Hollywood. The studios shuffled it around to see if anyone had interest, and the answer was no, because that Genre was dead.

Then they gave it to an actor best known for action movies. He too passed on it. But it was stuck in his mind. After an aide asked that actor what his next project was, he answered, “I don’t know, but I’ve got this script…”

And “Braveheart” was born in that moment.

So, I’m betting my future on ten pages and a single line of dialogue sitting at the end of a script excerpt: “I am still a Samurai, father.”

So, I’m anticipating my first rejection letter, and trying not to waste my weekend jittering and being unable to relax.

Worst Scripts Ever!

Why is it that when they take a million selling novel and decide to make a movie of it, they ALWAYS pick THE worst idiot to write the script?

Tom Clancey wrote “Patriot Games”, and it was a barn stormer of a book.

Someone converted it into a script and…

I literally sat through the entire movie, waiting for the movie to start. We turned it off the last twenty minutes, because we realized if the movie hadn’t shown up yet, it wasn’t going to.

Dull, blah…

Stephen King (I’m not a fan, by the way) wrote many books. The books sold millions. The movies were horrible, Why?

They changed them.

Except for “Delores Clairbourne”. They figured nobody would care. It sold a lot, but it wasn’t “The Shining”. So they basically just took the book, put it in a script, and made…

…one of the most memorable Stephen King movies ever filmed.

They figured nobody would care, because it wasn’t his most popular work. So, they just cut it down to the essentials, and filmed it.

See, that’s how you do it. “How are they going to change it?”

Why do you want to change it?

I mean, literally, I can still – and I haven;t seen the movie in many years… see Delores Clairbourne standing at the well, with joe at the bottom of it, shouting threats at her as she struggles with her conscience. She knows if she covers the well, and walks away, she’s going to kill the man she loves. If she lets him out, this is it – he’s going to kill her. There’s no doubt about it. And she stands there, panic on her face, hyperventilating, as a solar eclipse happens behind her. The Eclipse represents the struggle in her soul between doing what’s right, and staying alive. And she chooses, as the screen darkens.

I’ve read many, many books where they’ve been butchered making them into movies. Why do you need to change them?

I mean, is the screen writer so smart that he can tell a million selling author how he should have done it? no kidding, that’s the presumptuousness of it.

Really, the smart thing is to hire the author to write the screenplay, and have them work with the director. The director’s job is taking the terse script and making it alive. The Screen writer’s job is to write the story.

If you’re taking a novel that’s already a success, just – hire the author.

If it ain’t broke…

Who Makes More Money?

Script writer? Director? Or Film Score composer?

I’ll give you a hint. Obviously the director makes more money. So, who ends up in second place? The guy who actually wrote the script?


The score Composer gets a rough 10 to 15% of the film’s shooting budget. That means the person who sat down and wrote the single D natural crescendo note to show building tension made much, much more money than the person who wrote the actual movie.

I must be missing something. I mean… When I was growing up, it was basically Goldsmith had everything boxed up. Not all of his scores were good. Goldsmith wrote a soundtrack for “Legend” that apparently was… pathetic. And the film producer turned to a German Prog Rock synthesizer band, Tangerine Dream.

And they turned in one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all time. It was so perfect for the movie, it’s astounding. I remember seeing a fragment of Legend with goldsmith’s score behind it, and it was truly… lame.

Then James Horner was the name to know. I mean, his work on “The Wrath of Khan” was amazing.

now, it’s people like Hans Zimmer.

But with all due respect to how movies are made… What good is randomly swelling music if you… don’t have a good story?

Let’s pay our writers more.


you can just send me a deposit right now on one of my scripts.

Good Writing Advice

Years ago, my mother saw a book somewhere, and she got it for me because I was a raging Star Trek nerd. It was David Gerrold’s “The making of the Trouble with Tribbles.”

I read it, and it was more than just a “how I wrote it and how they filmed it” story. Although I will say later on I read Gene Coon’s book on Star Trek and he commented that Gerrold’s memory is faulty, and apparently Coon had to re-write the Trouble With Tribbles to make it fit the show.

But essentially, the book was on… how to write a script.


So, since Ninja movies were all the rage, I wrote a bad movie about Ninjas. And literally, I attracted the attention of a local independent movie producer-wannabe, who I worked with eventually to write about four movies. He was never able to get backers and funding, so the projects just died.

Everyone who was supposed to be in the movie went out to see a Ninja movie that came out, and they all told me, “your script is a lot better.”

Well, looking back on it, my script was horrible, so I can’t imagine how bad the other one was!

But that’s how I learned to write Scripts. I sat down with 3X5 index cards, a ball point Bic pen, and wrote out every confrontation I could think of. Some read – fight scene “(Sawyer and Yamoto)”. But you get the idea.

Once I had the two packs of index cards filled out with scenes, I sat down, set up an IBM Selectric with my margins I needed, and wrote the script. I think it took two weeks. I had a meeting with everyone, and they kept asking, “Is it done?” Mind you, they were asking if a 107 page script with a dozen major fight scenes was done after 15 days.

So I handed in the script. One page equals one minute of shooting script, and I had taken five different Chuck Norris movies and figured the average time based on the minute count on the back. I think I had a goal of 107 minutes.

fortunately, the sorry mess never got filmed. It was loaded with action and fight scenes, though.

So… what’s the good advice? “Think of every scene as a confrontation.” If I were teaching script writing in a college, that book would literally be my textbook for the class. Even in Charlotte’s Web, every scene is a confrontation. Fern talks to Wilbur, and time is ticking. Charlotte comes up with a plan to save Wilbur. Templeton goes to get a piece of paper with a word on it.

“It says crunchy.” “No, no, Templeton…”

As you watch your next movie, ask – “who is confronting who in this scene?”

Great way to learn more about movies.

World War Z – How I would have changed it

I realize that there’s ideologies involved in the movie. however, let me explain how different the movie would have been if I could have written it.

My readers may well start a petition drive by the end of this short article.

First… there’s guns everywhere. Gerry shoots a man in the Walgreens, and… they run out the door, leaving that gun lying there.

Stupid. Heros should grab every gun they see in a disaster/end of the world situation.

Let’s contrast that with a horror movie I saw in the ’80’s, where the Hero breaks into a gun shop, loads up on everything he needs, and leaves a big wad of cash wrapped in rubber bands on the counter as he leaves.

Why? Essentially, you’re in an “Invading army” scenario. Reloading takes time, and sometimes it simply is far more effective to grab a second gun and shoot.

In addition, you need strength in numbers. Everyone who joins you, will need a weapon. The more you pick up as you go along, the better you’ll be.

Second… Gerry is supposed to be a UN Investigator. He’s got to have combat experience. The rundown from the ship’s captain makes that clear. He’s not very inventive about clearing out the “Zekes”, the way that a man in that job would have been. As a matter of fact, he shows he’s all too willing to drop every weapon almost as soon as he gets it.

Third – anyone with the kind of build-up they give Gerry would have immediately responded in one way upon finding out his wife and daughters were taken off the ship. “Let me speak to the Captain. Here’s how it is. I’m going to find your answers. And when I’m done, I’m coming for you.”

The movie demanded it. I’m sure the audience left unsatisfied, wanting to see vengeance over Gerry’s family being kicked off the ship.

Really, I don’t know if Max Brooks was satisfied with the movie or not. Brooks went so far as to give survival tips in his book, most of which the movie ignored. I suppose if I ever meet him, I’ll interview him to find his thoughts on the movie.

And I’ll put it up here.

That’s my thoughts. The movie was good, but I felt it could have been better


I haven’t officially made a study of archetypes. What this is, is – heros. Your hero character. Let’s analyze some.

Jack Ryan (Clancy) – unwilling hero. Pushed into it when someone tries to kidnap the Princess of Wales in front of him. He then ends up getting into the CIA… and the world finds itself with a man who finds himself having to take an active role in all kinds of international drama.

The Man with No Name (Grimaldi/spaghetti westerns) – Can’t help but get involved. Tecnically, The Man with No Name has a name – it’s Joe Banco, also known as Blondie. He tends to try to keep to himself, but he cannot stand to see the strong bully the weak.

Frodo Baggins – tragic hero. He’s going to do what’s right, no matter what.

Luke Skywalker – wide eyed innocent kid who wants to do something, be something – and he finds himself on the other side, fighting with the Rebellion. He transforms from nerdy kid, to beaten skeptic, to Jedi Warrior.

Matthew Carpenter – (my character) the shorter Clint Eastwood. Former law enforcement, formerly a Karate competitor. Now just cold and trying to make it through the day, not reflecting on how lonely his life is. His assumption is, nobody else is going to do something, so… do something.

Edward Scissorhands – the outsider. He knows he’s a toy, but he wants to love. A tragic character, he loves, and knows he will have to love from afar.

Dirty Harry Callahan – Bitterness personified. He seems to be the only person in the world concerned with the rights of the victims. And his frustration levels with those who prey on the weak and those who keep telling him he can’t do this and that are roughly the same.

So, there’s a group of different heros. The right hero drives a story. I mean, Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey. Both of them react precisely the same – someone breaks the law, someone gets shot. But the essentail difference between Kersey and Dirty Harry drive the story. Both movies came out around the same time, both spawned franchises, both were hugely successful

you could go an entire career writing essentially the same story, and putting a different hero in it. It drives the story.

Speaking Engagements

Apparently, you’ve got to speak at writer’s conventions nowadays. how this tells a publisher you’ll sell books to non-authors I’ve yet to figure out.

So, since I’ve managed to write a number of books so far, I’m available to speak at Writer’s Conventions on “Finish it! Creating your book from start to finish.” I’ll be working on the powerpoint any day now.

Or Characterization, or… whatever you want me to speak on. “Why every Novelist should live in Rhode Island.” I’ll speak on it. Call me.

Possible Project

You know, I’ve got an admission to make. I’ve got a project which keeps popping in my head. I know a lot of History, and certain people in history to me are irresistible. The history of Balthasar Hubmeier really needs a Mel Gibson to direct it, but he never would. It would take some serious convincing to get him to do it. If you know who Balthasar Hubmaier is, you’d know why.

But, there’s a pivotal person in history that I remain fascinated with, because I could see how a biography movie of him would be a HUGE epic story, since after all his life was a huge epic story. By this I mean Tokugawa.

Yes, I said Tokugawa. Ieyasu Tokugawa. Changed his name seven times, his parents taken from him early on, forced to be a hostage until he was fourteen, then expected to go and immediately be the Daimyo (samurai lord) of his family. You can almost see the fourteen year old’s thoughts at that point. “I can be Shogun.”

The future of Asia was almost set in stone from that moment. History had conspired to make him strong almost from birth. If you attempt to show the humanness of Tokugawa and Ishida as well as the might and power of both… it would make a compelling movie.

I’ve got an article on how to write a movie script in 30 days. At some point, I’m going to do it, and the subject may well be Tokugawa, because I’m a real nerd for Military history. And while I’m aware that there was a book and TV movie made about James Clavell’s book “Shogun”, it truly falls VERY short of the power and majesty any movie about Tokugawa should elicit.

And of course, prior to filming, one would need to sit with the head of the Ishida clan and the Tokugawa clan and get permission. You can proceed without it, but hey, POLITENESS is everything in Japanese society.

Scrivener Tweaks

One of the things I undertake when using a piece of software, is very shortly after using it, I try to learn all of the tweaks you can do to make it more usable. I understand most people don’t do this. But I went to college at one point for computer programming, got disillusioned and quit.

So I know something about software environment. There’s usually two ways to do everything, and there’s usually features built in to software that the programmer knows the average person wil not use, but they will.

Scrivener is kind of unusual in that the programmer gives you access to those hidden features. I’m hampered by my personal choice of a PC instead of a Mac, as the programmer for Scrivener decided to not carry over two very important features to the PC version, the “Words by date” feature and the “Compare snapshots” function.

So, Meta-Tags. That was the first question I had. They’re there for something. Keywords and Meta-Tags.

Ah. A quick search of the videos on the L&L website shows me that Meta-Tags allow you to track certain things . Like what? What do you want to track?

Character, POV, Scene, Date. Since my books are deadline-centered, I can track what characters are in what scenes, whose POV it is, where it is, and WHEN it is. Now, you go to the Scrivenings view (icon 3), and click on the little square above the drag line… and add those meta-tags into your view.

Voila! (pronounced “Walla”)! Now you can track those things! You may have to restart your Scrivener to be able to enter the meta-tag info in all three views, but now you can track that.

Then I found that under views, you can apply the color schemes for “scene”, “Chapter” “Character” to your left hand column. COOL! “View”>”Use Label Color inh”>”Binder” & “Icons”. So in other words, you can choose Binder (The left hand column) and icons. Play with it, choose all four, decide what you like, decide what you don’t like. You may go back and forth on it per project. more stimulus equals more creativeness, or less intrusive equals less distraction.

There you go! A couple of tweaks you can use!