Hello Goldminers, and welcome to Part Two of my Screenwriting Toolbox. This week we’re talking about the “boring” stuff—but none of it’s as boring as getting it wrong and letting all your great creative work go to waste. This is an industry like any other, after all. Well, not actually like any other at all, but you get my drift. Don’t you? Dear me, I’m confusing myself.
Right, off we go!
This should be so obvious as to not need mentioning, and yet I regularly meet writers who complain of having lost a load of work because of a failed hard drive or Final Draft crashing before an autosave (more on this in the next item).
Look, I don’t care how scared of computers you are or how much you can’t be bothered. Get Dropbox (or Google Drive or Microsoft whatever-it-is; they all do pretty much the same thing but Dropbox seems to me like the friendliest) on your computer. NOW. And save ALL your work in it.
At the very least, it means if Mel Gibson and Danny Glover can’t defuse the bomb in your house in time and everything you own goes up in an orange fireball, your work will be safe. And if you’re a writer, that’s the most important stuff you own. Everything else can be replaced, right?
So let me repeat: for the most important stuff you own, there’s a free, instant, easy way of keeping it safe from all kinds of harm. And you’re not using it? On your own head be it!
Once you’ve got the hang of it there are loads of other things you can do with Dropbox too—syncing across computers, phones and tablets of course, but also sharing working folders with collaborators, and emailing files directly into it with Send to Dropbox.
I write all my first drafts in Scrivener. It’s a brilliant piece of writing software, designed with the creative process in mind, not with the fernicketiness of pure word processing.
That’s not to say it’s not fernickety—it can be if you want to get really nerdy with it. But it can be simple too, if you prefer. It’s the endless adaptability that’s one of its big draws (you can plan and write novels, radio plays or even academic manuscripts with it too.)
And if you use it with Dropbox (above) it autosaves your stuff as you type! So if catastrophe strikes you won’t lose a second’s work (provided you’re connected to the internet).
It works brilliantly whether you’re a meticulous planner or if you like to splurge-write first, then go back and edit/reorder later.
And if you don’t believe me, here’s Luther creator Neil Cross on how he finds Scrivener to be an essential part of his writing toolkit.
Fade In / Final Draft / CeltX
Why have I bodged three competing programs into the same section? I’ll tell you why: I’m not sure which one to recommend.
If you’re sending scripts out, they need to be properly formatted. Scrivener does a fairly decent job of this, but even the creators of Scrivener recommend you use a “proper” screenwriting program for final outputting of your script.
Fade In, Final Draft and CeltX will take care of the fine details of formatting that Scrivener won’t, such as proper “mores and continueds” and avoiding “orphan lines” of dialogue breaking across pages.
CeltX is free, so if you’re starting out that’s probably the way to go.
If your TV show or film goes into production then you will start having to lock scene and page numbers. This is when Final Draft comes into its own, and why it is still the industry standard. It’s horrible to use but it works, and crucially the same script pages will break in the same place whoever opens the file. It might seem archaic, but the importance of this once you’re production can’t be overstated. And if you don’t believe me then you’ve never been on the wrong end of a First Assistant Director’s wrath.
Apparently Fade In handles locked scenes and pages just as well as Final Draft, but I can’t vouch for it I’m afraid.
Two final things: lots of people I know swear by Movie Magic Screenwriter but I should say I’ve never tried it and I think it looks horrible, even worse than Final Draft, like something made in the 90s. And if you only work on a Mac, you might want to check out John August’s Highland. It looks good but I’ve never tried it so don’t come running to me if it’s rubbish.
More of a development tool, this, but if you’re a PDF power user on the iPad then you should check this out. More and more development folk are using it, and if you’re a writer there’s a good chance you’re starting to get notes that have been marked up in this brilliant little app. The only thing is that it costs seven quid. It’s a bit steep, but let’s face it: if you’ve already forked out for an iPad and are therefore locked into Apple’s habit of making their gear obsolete every couple of years with software updates that only work on the latest, shiniest things, then you might as well suck it up, mightn’t you?
Sadly there’s no Android equivalent I’ve found. (There is a version of iAnnotate for Android but it doesn’t work on all devices and last time I checked it had a fraction of the functionality of the iOS one. Boo! Let me know if you find an alternative.)
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity tool, designed to complement the way the mind works. It separates your “focus blocks” into 25-minute “pomodoros,” named after the kitchen timer device made in the shape of a tomato.
After each pomodoro, during which you must focus on one predetermined task to the exclusion of all else, you take a compulsory five-minute break, during which you must stop working on the task in hand, though you may do anything else. Then it’s back to work.
There are loads of apps that will help you through. Go for a simple one, or even just buy a pomodoro kitchen timer!
This regimented approach isn’t for everyone, and I find it can work better for editing/analytical work than for creative/lateral work. It depends on the kind of writing I’m doing as to whether I use it or not, but if I’m reading, editing or preparing a set of notes I find it very helpful. I do get through more tea than usual though…
Chicken-and-egg, this, as you often only end up getting an agent once you’ve got some “heat” around you—i.e. interest in your work from a producer or some level of success in one of the decent screenwriting competitions backed by industry professionals (like the one right here on the Goldmine!).
Some agencies will read unsolicited material, but frustratingly those are often the agencies you might not want to sign with. And yes, it does matter. Producers, execs, script editors and development people all employ prejudice when it comes to reading material. If a script comes in from an agent whose taste they don’t trust, they will be more likely to give it a “hard read.”
Very occasionally this can work in your favour, because low expectations mean that a dazzling script will be twice as dazzling. But more often than not, an otherwise decent-to-middling script will be met with a sceptical response if it’s from an agent with a history of throwing everything at the wall in the hope that some of it sticks.
Again not something you need right away but as soon as you’re earning any money from writing, just get one. Preferably one with experience in the film and television industry—and ideally one who has other writers as clients. You will need to register as self-employed, you will need to submit a tax return, and at some point it may make sense to form a limited company.
As a limited company you will pay less tax than as an individual. Some people take issue with this, as though it’s some underhand tax evasion dodge à la Starbucks or Jimmy Carr. It isn’t. Her Maj’s Revenue and Customs set it up like this to reflect the fact that you are essentially a small business and you work in a high-risk environment with no job security, pension or any of that gubbins. It also makes it easier to employ people, and it can make it easier to trade in intellectual property.
There’s one final advantage too: it makes you think about the business a bit. I am a firm advocate of the view that writers should think like producers. In fact I think more writers should aspire to be producers. That means thinking about the whole thing from end-to-end, including conception, development, production and distribution. From your head to the audience’s head.
Film and TV specialist accountants we recommend:
- Mark Carr & Co. (Brighton).
- Ken Livingstone (no, not that Ken Livingstone) at Stewart Gilmour & Co. (Glasgow).
Online bookkeeping. Allows you to invoice and track expenses with ease. Xero is simple to use, especially when compared to many traditional bookkeeping systems. And although it’s not free, it more than pays for itself in usefulness. There are different levels, starting at only £9 a month plus VAT. And you can even give your accountant a login so they can undo all your blunders!
And that wraps it up! These tools might be a pain to set up, but once you’re up and running your mind will be freer to do what it does best: tell stories.
Have a good time, all the time.