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Fountain: The Future of Screenwriting

Eric Escobar

What if you could write a screenplay in any word processing application and have it automatically formatted for FinalDraft? Fountain makes it possible.

Fountain Screenwriting

An example of the Fountain markup (click for larger view)

For close to two decades, professional screenwriters had only one option when it came to writing screenplays on a computer — FinalDraft. While there were other competing applications, Final Draft was (and still is) the application of choice within the film and television industry. At the end of the day, a writer is expected to work, present, and revise in-progress projects, as .fdx files — the proprietary file format of Final Draft. While there are some utilities that allow a writer to view or translate this document type into something more universal, there is no other application that allows a writer to fully edit an .fdx file other than Final Draft.

Further, there hasn’t been many options for starting a screenplay in another application and migrating it to Final Draft for the review and development cycle. You have to start and finish everything in one application on the same computer (because serializing FinalDraft means locking it to a single computer).

I don’t know many writers that work this way anymore.

Writing happens everywhere: the park, the metro, while driving (dangerous!), in bed, in the bathroom. The device that facilitates these bursts of inspiration is the smartphone. Often a file starts in a simple text editor, moves to something else, then finally lands in a proper screenplay application. With each one of these transitions, a file type translation has to occur. Formatting and notation can get garbled and a lot of “fix-it” work has to be done, losing valuable writing time.

What is needed is a universal mark up language — a set of rules and style of writing that exists independent of any one application or file format.

Markup Language for Screenwriters

This is why Fountain is such an amazing development for screenwriters. It is not an application or file type, it is a markup language: ‘a modern system for annotating a document in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from the text.’ (from Wikipedia)

Spend a few hours learning the syntax and you’ll be writing screenplays on anything that can edit text. Download any number of Fountain-based apps and you’ll be good to go.

‘Fountain is a simple markup syntax for writing, editing and sharing screenplays in plain, human-readable text. Fountain allows you to work on your screenplay anywhere, on any computer or tablet, using any software that edits text files’. (from the Fountain website)

What Fountain Looks Like

It looks like a screenplay from the get-go. For instance, if you want to write a scene heading for an interior day scene in a living room, you just type it like this: int. living room – day.

A fountain browser will display that as: INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

Start an action block just by writing normally below a scene heading. And for a character, just write the name in all caps.

For every one of these screenplay elements there are ways to force the interpretation. For instance if you wanted to start a scene heading with something other than INT or EXT. You can type a period (“.”) at the start of the line.

Using Fountain to go from Google Docs to FinalDraft

Finish Your Work in FinalDraft

Even with all these great new tools, many of us will still end up in FinalDraft. Thankfully there is a great app from the developers of Fountain called Highland which easily converts a Fountain screenplay into an FDX file. Highland preserves all your existing formatting and structure as you move from Fountain and into FinalDraft. Hopefully soon, FinalDraft will just do that all by itself.

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