Scribbler’s Saga #73 – Untitled Writing App

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Oooh, a new screenwriting app! And that’s all the thought process for downloading and playing around with Untitled required. I’ve spent a worse $2.99 in the App Store, several times.

My eyes opened seeing the ad on Facebook, pretty much the first time an app pulled my heartstrings in Zuckerberg-Land. Usually, I get suckered into picking up that, still unused, programmable music box where I use a provided hole punch to create music. Or perhaps I could talk about the videography rig for my iPhone? Never mind, while many of these purchases go in the category of keeping my creative options open, I do use writing apps. Even screenwriting apps.

I suppose the other question to settle for all three of you that consistently read this blog is…so back to writing screenplays after many months piously swearing off the form? Yes, I went to a friend’s screenwriting group and suddenly wanted to join in at the cool kids’ table. I even started a screenplay…uh, a teleplay in strict point of fact, a two-night miniseries as initial cover for an epic sure to glaze over a few eyeballs as a film.

Now, I don’t need very many writing apps. I have Final Draft, Word and Google Docs. But, Untitled had an interesting pitch video where the app promises that the scribe doesn’t have to toggle between the various elements that have been rigidly part of Screenplay Format since jump, but we can, instead, type modified prose to get the same results…a screenplay your agent might love. I can afford $2.99.

Using the app was a mixed bag of brilliant features and other stuff that induces shrugs and sighs of, “whatever.” On the plus side, the app does what it says it will do, help the screenwriter bang out a first draft with some allowance for organizing the notes that feed that writing. On the meh side, there were a few things, mostly on the file management side that weren’t quite as advertised.

When you first download the app, you’re presented with a screen that toggles between the Edit Page and the Preview Page that shows what everything looks like as a screenplay. The idea is simply to type with a syntax that mostly mimics the straight ahead knucklehead prose I use to transport you to Gotham for an alley mugging. Presumably if you were to get anyone who actually makes this app drunk, they’ll tell you how you’ll save a few seconds here and there if you just type instead of having to click on the Slugline, Action, Character, Dialogue, Parentheses, Shots and Transitions.

Considering that Screenplay Format has so many Tab changes, I’ll always shout out to the ladies in the old-timey studio typing departments that did this on a typewriter and pay for a good app. Promising to translate directly from prose is the next brilliant idea in screenwriting. You just have to learn the syntax.

They’re outside the suburban house during the day creates – EXT. SUBURBAN HOUSE – DAY – when you toggle from the edit page to the preview page. Okay, cool, we have Scene Headers, a.k.a. Slugline down. The very next sentence is automatically placed correctly below the slug as Action. We can tell the crew to find a house in Pacoima for the exterior shot. Or the writer can type the slug normally on the Edit Page to get to the same place.

I must mention an interesting quirk about Scene Headers that I’m not sure the app makers fully appreciated when they made the upload. The phrase during the day/night is absolutely and rigidly part of the syntax for Scene Headers so it eliminates certain tricks you’ll learn on other screenwriting apps that allow dumping the time stamp in the header. For me this quirk only matters because I write Science Fiction.

Using Final Draft Mobile, I write quite a bit of – EXT. SPACE – headers without the time stamp. I do this because day and night are meaningless constructs in orbit where there is no atmosphere to scatter and expand sunlight into night and day. The crew reads this and prepares to bring the right lights to the shooting day, but old hands will tell you that the time stamp is meaningless for interiors when you can darken any window you like to mimic – INT. HOUSE – NIGHT – and space shots are just models photographed indoors. But, with Untitled my headers for scenes in space must be written as They’re outside in space during the day leading to – EXT. SPACE – DAY. Extra words!

Regular typing with periods creates blocks of Action, the majority of the words in a script. This is where Untitled shines living up to most of its hype. I have few negative observations here, though I did find interesting quirks in the line spacing between blocks of Action that sort of violate how we’re taught Screenplay Format in writing class. Scripts separate Action blocks using double spacing and most apps automate this (another reason for no typewriters ever in screenwriting), but Untitled doesn’t forcing you to hit Return twice to get these results on the Preview Page. More keystrokes than I was promised.

Another cool thing, Character and Dialogue are handled together with something that mimics prose. The writer just writes – “Mary get the door.” said Bob – and when the words are rendered on the Preview Page it comes out perfectly. Score one for the new kid.

Price should always be part of a purchase decision. Right now, Untitled is $2.99 and may go up to $4.99 when the current sale ends. Final Draft Mobile is currently $30 (I picked it up during the initial sale for $10, nyah-nyah!). Fade In Mobile is about $6.99. Writer Duet’s new mobile app is free (review pending). And there are other apps all over the map hanging on. I see Untitled playing well with writers that haven’t already jumped on the Final Draft train. Score one, almost, for the new guy.

Where the app really helps its case against Final Draft Mobile is in how it looks in the display. Hopefully, the accompanying pictures do justice to what the Edit Page looks like, where the writer types or finger taps creating words using a font that I want to say is Arial Bold, but is really some other similar font. The words are larger on my iPhone screen than the same words from Final Draft Mobile rendered in a Courier variant. Larger and bolder is good when a writer whose optometrist already said he’d lost the ego battle against reading glasses at least two years ago.

I also have the iPad version and all of the above applies, but for the positive exception that this version does a better job of making the syntax guide easier to use and click out of so you never lose track of how the app has been built to write. Both versions do an excellent job of toggling back and forth between the Edit Page and the Preview Page which renders the text as a script in anally perfect Courier all tickety-boo.

At this point, I should be happier than, “I’ve spent a worse $2.99.” And as is the case most of the time, the file management at the back end didn’t land perfectly. The Untitled app promises that you can translate the file for export in a variety of file types: PDF, Fountain, Final Draft (FDX), Text and a couple others.

I’m laser focused on getting my scripts all neat and tidy for Final Draft output. Everybody else on a project has insisted on FDX file extensions because all of their productivity software requires this type of input. So realizing that I can choose to fight the 800-pound gorillas in Hollywood who deal with content or the similar primates in charge of format, I took the easy way out and decided to focus on content. This means everything new needs to speak well with Final Draft.

Once I had my pages just so on the Preview Page, I clicked through to export as a Final Draft file. Apple products allow the user to shift files between compatible apps without using email or Air Drop, so this I do. And then I check what the file looks like moved over to Final Draft. Key elements like Shot and Transition didn’t appear on the screen the way they do when I type these things in Final Draft.

My immediate solution for things that looked great on the Preview Page but ended up in the wrong places in Final Draft was to export the pages as a PDF and email them to myself. I had the attachment open on my iPad while I typed these words on my iPhone. And there is my meh reaction in a nutshell…if I’m typing things twice you’re not helping my workload.

So to recap, Untitled has a nice looking interface and an interesting prose to script typing syntax. The writer pays for this with a few quirks concerning line spacing in Action lines and issues with file management trying to make all of this talk to Final Draft (I didn’t try it out exporting to Fountain or anything else). I’ve spent a far worse $2.99…like that annoying ass police siren app. Never mind and get back to writing!

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