Archive for the ‘How-To’ Category

Title page trouble with Final Draft .pdfs

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Reader Josh C wrote in with one solution to a problem that’s been frustrating me for months. When you want to save a script as a .pdf, Final Draft won’t always include the title page. It’s frustratingly inconsistent. The obvious workaround is to save the title page as a separate file, which is what I’ve often done. But then you end up emailing two documents, increasing the confusion on the other end.

Josh was using Final Draft version It turns out, the issue is whether the “Title Page…” window is open or closed.

1. Save your screenplay as normal (as a .fdr)

2. With your saved screenplay still open, go to Document > Title Page. A new, blank Title Page opens.

3. Fill in the blanks, then just CLOSE THE TITLE PAGE. This is the part that I got hung up on forever. If you leave the title page open, then try to save as a PDF, it won’t work. The Title page WON’T attach itself to the PDF if the Title Page is still open when you try to Save as. Just close the Title Page. It saves automatically to your screenplay.

4. With your screenplay still open, go to File > Save As — then select Adobe Acrobat Document (*pdf) - or whatever your computer says. Save the new PDF file somewhere and open it up. The Title Page should be attached at the top of the screenplay where it should be :)

In my tests with 7.1.3, the .pdf will also include the title page even if that window is still open1 — provided you have a certain checkbox checked in “Preferences.”

checkboxYes, I’ll admit that I didn’t read the manual with version 7 of Final Draft. But this is a pretty questionable place to put this checkbox. After all, sometimes you’ll want to include the title page, sometimes you won’t. Does it really make sense to have this be an application-wide preference, housed in a panel that has nothing to do with printing, saving or the specific document you’re working on? It’s pretty much the last place I’d think to look for it.

What’s more, at least on the Mac, Final Draft is using the built-in .pdf facility of OS X. It’s basically just printing to a file.2 Since it seems to be using the standard print architecture, you’d think that choosing the “Print Title Page” option in the Print dialog box would have some effect. It doesn’t. And that’s why it’s frustrating.3

Whenever I complain about Final Draft, I get a nice note from the developers asking me to help out with the next version, and a few emails from companies working on competing applications. So let me make it clear where I stand. Despite its annoyances, I end up using Final Draft because what it gets right generally outweighs what it gets wrong. There’s certainly some inertia on my part, but given a better alternative, I’d switch in a heartbeat. The shipping versions of Screenwriter, Montage and Celtx aren’t better, particularly when it comes to revisions.

I’m hoping the upcoming Screenwriter 6 gives Final Draft some real competition, because that’s what’s lacking. When we were cutting The Nines, I realized that editing software has benefitted tremendously from the battle between Avid and Apple, with new features, better interfaces, and dramatically lower prices. I started out a Final Cut Pro man, while my editor was firmly Avid. We had the luxury of both being right. Both systems are terrific, and I think that’s largely because of the competition.

  1. However, if you haven’t closed or saved the title page, it won’t be updated until you do.
  2. You can test this by choosing a two-page layout in the Print dialog box. The next time you choose to Save as PDF, you’ll get facing pages.
  3. On the Mac, you always have the option of using the “Save as PDF” function built into the Print dialog box. But I’ve never had any luck getting that to include a title page. My guess is that Final Draft treats the title page as a separate document. When you print to a traditional printer, you’ll notice a one-page progress dialog flash for a second. I think Final Draft is kicking out the title page as a distinct job. It never incorporates it into the “real” script.

The perils of coincidence

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

Like several million people worldwide, I saw Spider-Man 3 this past weekend. And like a substantial percentage of these viewers, I got frustrated by the number of unlikely coincidences in the movie.

There’s nothing wrong with coincidence, per se. Almost every movie is going to have some incidents where one character just happens to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, many movies are built around a “premise coincidence.” In Die Hard, John McClane just happens to be in the building when the villains attack. That’s okay. McClane’s being there is part of the premise. Likewise, in the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker just happens to get bitten by the radioactive spider. No problem: it wouldn’t be Spider-Man otherwise.

The premise coincidence is one flavor of what I’ll call a Fundamental Coincidence: an accidental confluence of time, place and motivation which greatly impacts the story.

In a romantic comedy, when The Guy would have proposed to The Girl except that he just happened to overhear a conversation he interpreted the wrong way, that’s a Fundamental Coincidence. In the first Spider-Man, Norman Osborn just happens to be transformed into The Goblin just as Peter is becoming Spider-Man. That’s a Fundamental Coincidence, but we accept it because it feels true to the genre.

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. (Mostly things you’d glean the trailers or ads, but still.)

Let’s look at the Fundamental Coincidences in Spider-Man 3:

  • The asteroid carrying the symbiote (utlimately, Venom) happens to land near Peter Parker. Peter doesn’t hear it, doesn’t investigate.
  • The symbiote happens to attach itself to Peter’s scooter.
  • Flint Marko happens to fall into the sand pit at exactly the moment the scientists test their billion-dollar Dyson vacuum.1
  • Flint Marko happens to have been the man who killed Uncle Ben. (A retcon.)
  • Eddie Brock happens to be the only person in the church at the moment Peter tries to get rid of the black suit.

Any one (or two) of these Fundamental Coincidences would probably go unnoticed, particularly in a superhero movie, where credibility takes a back seat to spectacle. But put together, they make the plot feel rickety, particularly when you factor in the large number of what I’ll call Minor Coincidences — things that don’t fundamentally change the story, but feel convenient all the same.

  1. The police chief decides to tell Peter about Marko now, even though he’s known the details for some time, apparently.
  2. Sandman’s first attack just happens to coincide with Spider-Man getting the key to the city.
  3. Eddie Brock is newly arrived at the Daily Bugle, and wants Peter’s job.
  4. Gwen Stacy happens to be Peter’s lab partner.
  5. Gwen Stacy happens to be in the skyscraper during the crane accident.
  6. And she’s the police chief’s daughter.
  7. And she’s Eddie Brock’s love interest.2
  8. And Gwen happens to be at the fancy restaurant on the night Peter wants to propose.

Again, you could have several of these coincidences in any movie and no one would mind. It’s largely expected that familiar faces will become imperiled in a summer action movie, so #5 feels right. Likewise, the eventual discovery of Venom’s weakness is accidental, but that plays into the genre. No foul there.

My point is not to rip on Spider-Man 3, but to urge readers to look at their own scripts with an eye towards coincidence. If you’ve written a treatment, search for the following phrases: “at the same time,” “accidentally,” “luckily,” “unfortunately,” and “meanwhile.” They’re often a tip-off that you have events happening by coincidence. There’s almost always a better alternative.

Causality trumps everything

Given a choice, try to find cause and effect. One event happens because of something else we’ve seen — ideally, something the hero himself has done.

Instead of having the hero accidentally overhear a key conversation, get him actively trying to listen. Or have an interested third party steer him in that direction — perhaps for his own reasons. At every juncture where a reader could ask “Why did that happen?”, try to have an answer that isn’t, “just because.”

Although there are some convenient twists in the Harry Osborn plot (amnesia, for starters), the causality is clear: the New Goblin wants revenge on Spider-Man for killing his daddy in the first movie.3 It doesn’t feel like coincidence that Harry is flying around on his hoverboard. With two other villains desperate for scenes, the timing might not be opportune, but it’s clear why it’s happening.

Look for correlation

Rather than ask an audience to swallow a bunch of little implausibilities, try bundling them together.

In Heroes, imagine if each character had a completely unique origin story: Claire got her powers from a shaman; Sylar is an alien; Peter has a magic ring. You’d get frustrated pretty quickly, because a lot of screen time would go towards explaining why and how. Instead, the creators wisely decided the characters all had some mysterious gene mutation activated by an environmental change. The audience is willing to make that one big leap,4 because they’re not asked to make similar leaps each time a new character is introduced.5

For Spider-Man 3, I don’t have any magic answers on how to correlate these disparate threads — other than trimming one out, which wouldn’t be a bad place to start. But had the script dropped on my desk a month before shooting, here are a few thoughts I would have put out there in terms of the many coincidences:

  • Both Venom and Sandman are forms of disembodied consciousness that control their host subjects — people and sand, respectively. That seems thematically promising.
  • One asteroid feels random, while a meteor shower feels like an event that needs a superhero.
  • Could this meteor shower overlap with Marko’s transformation or escape? Even if it’s just in the background, it makes them feel more united.
  • Could Spider-Man be pursuing Marko at the start?
  • Could we see the symbiote choosing Peter, because he’s the strongest creature around?

Chop it out

Often, the best answer when faced with a nagging coincidence is just to remove it.

  • Do we really need the Uncle Ben retcon? It doesn’t have a lot to do with Marko’s sick-daughter motivation.
  • Couldn’t Eddie Brock already be a stringer for the Daily Bugle? If he and Peter already have history, great.
  • Does Gwen Stacy need to be Peter’s lab partner?
  • Do we even need the police chief?

Again, my point isn’t to rag on Spidey, but to urge reader-writers take a hard look at the role of coincidence in their own scripts.

Some coincidence feels genuine. In real life, we do accidentally bump into old friends at the mall. And surprise in general is a good thing — catching your reader off-balance is a worthy goal. But if a significant portion of your plot depends on chance, that’s a good indicator something’s not fully baked. The best time to tackle these problems is in the outline, asking yourself not only what happens next, but why.

  1. It’s never clear what they’re supposedly doing, or why they wouldn’t have, say, a lid on the pit. Or a videocamera to monitor the experiment.
  2. Revealing both of these points of information in one piece of dialogue was a particularly bold choice.
  3. I kept waiting for Peter to point out that Harry’s dad was a psychopath, but oh well.
  4. And a familiar leap, frankly, because of X-Men.
  5. Note that both the D.C. and Marvel universes do have multiple, often conflicting means of empowering their heroes and villains. This is good and fascinating, but I suspect it’s one reason it can be harder for a casual reader to pick up these titles. The time investment needed to get up to speed is significant. Quick: Is Scarlet Witch a witch? Ummm…Sort of.