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Interview with Nicholl Fellowship winners Alisha Brophy & Scott Miles

The writers of “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” are… awesome. Not only do they write terrific scripts, they also use terrific software for their collaborative writing process… (drumroll please) WriterDuet! Alisha Brophy and Scott Miles were kind enough to answer some interview questions posed by WriterDuet’s (awesome) intern Nathan Berkowitz.

When you launch a new project together, how do you decide what topics and characters you want to explore? Does one of you present a firm idea, or do you bounce thoughts back and forth?

The best ideas come from Scott starting a sentence with, “We could never do this premise, but I was thinking…” And then Alisha gets obsessed with the idea and insists that we write it. We keep a list of ideas so there is always a pile of concepts to choose from. Other ideas come from challenging ourselves while driving around between meetings – “you have five minutes to come up with a premise based on that street sign. GO!” A lot of them don’t work, but sometimes there’s gold in just free-associating ideas. There’s a lot of streets in LA.

Do you find yourself sharing work evenly at most points in the screenwriting process, or does it fluctuate? Do you each have certain specialties when it comes to screenwriting?

From logline to outline to beat-sheet to pages, we are working simultaneously. It truly is a partnership and there is no separate ownership over ideas or characters or script elements. We realized early on that you can’t distinguish skills. We’ve heard other writing teams say things like, one person is the “dialogue person” and another be the “ideas person, etc.” We believe that each writer has to bring 100% to every element of storytelling. But, we of course have our strengths. Alisha will throw out jokes in order to keep characters grounded. Fortunately, Scott’s brain is like an algorithm that can create replacement jokes on demand.

What was your writing workflow like before you discovered WriterDuet? What are the biggest differences in that process since you began using WriterDuet?

Before WriterDuet, we’d work together on the outline and then split up the scenes into reels/sequences to go off and write individually. Then came the dance of trading off sections, rewriting each other, back and forth until we were happy with the results. It took FOREVER. Now, we’re both in the same document, video chatting as we go. Still working on different scenes, but if one gets stuck, the other can jump up to the scene and we’ll talk it through. So in ten minutes, we can find a better version of the scene, a process that might have taken weeks when passing files back and forth over email. And because we’re discussing in real time, talking through all the versions the scene could be, our first drafts end up closer to third drafts due to the time we’ve saved working from the same doc.

Do you typically make changes to a script separately, or do you prefer if your partner is online when one of you is working on the script?

We’re always either video chatting or (preferably) in the same room physically, both laptops open, working in WriterDuet. With comedy, it’s especially important to have someone there to get an immediate reaction. If they laugh, it stays. Scott has learned how to differentiate Alisha’s laughs because her reaction to a joke in the script and a funny online gif are quite similar.

As comedy writers, do you both have to laugh in order for a joke to stay in the script? How do you decide if something is both funny and necessary to the story?

We both have to think a joke is the best version for it to stay. If either of us bumps on it, than we talk through why. This conversation lasts as long as it takes for us to find a new line that doesn’t bump. The conversation is never persuading the other one into agreeing to it, but instead, talking through why it feels wrong. These discussions have two outcomes. Either the idea stays but it’s given new context that now makes it work, or it’s thrown out and replaced with a new, stronger idea. We both individually stand behind every line in every project. Fortunately, we have a similar sense of humor– which is probably the most important quality in a comedy collaborator.

What is each of your favorite scripts you’ve written together? Have you ever worked on a script one of you was passionate about but the other wasn’t as into?

Our favorite is whatever we’re currently working on. Probably because it takes SUCH commitment to a premise to see it through to the bitter end, especially knowing you’ll be diving back in for rewrites, that it has to be your favorite in the moment or you’d never finish. It better be the funniest, most dramatic, most tragic, most whatever thing you’ve ever done. As for passion, we have to be equally 100% behind an idea or we couldn’t write it. When we start shaping ideas to become scripts, an equal amount of who we are gets thrown into the mix, so it feels personal to each of us.

What was the most challenging disagreement you’ve had as writing partners? How did you (we hope) resolve it?

We get asked this often and everyone seems let down by the answer. They’re probably hoping for some drama, but we’ve only had one drawn out argument. It was over a joke in the first script we wrote together. We both were absolutely convinced that the other person wrote it. To this day, neither of us can even remember what the joke was, but it won’t stop us from bickering over who should take credit. (Scott: It was her.)

(Editor’s note: if back then they’d been using WriterDuet, which tracks exactly who wrote what, when, they would know the answer to this question. Sorry for not creating it sooner!)

The only other topic we’ve disagreed on was whether our focus should be tv or features. But, we’ve solved that by simultaneously working on both. And the business is currently open to writers straddling that line. So, we are both following our passions.

What is some advice you have for writers just beginning a partnership?

Be a goldfish and quickly forget who initially had which ideas. Think of your suggestions as clay. As soon as an idea is spoken it becomes fair game for both of you to twist, build on, or throw away. This is a mix of metaphors but if it helps, just picture two goldfish sculpting together.

That’s it! Much thanks to Scott and Alisha for their time and excellent responses. Now that you’ve learned from the pros, go forth and be a goldfish sculptor. And win the Nicholl. And always… be awesome.

You should upgrade to WriterDuet Pro!

I haven’t done much hard-selling of WriterDuet’s Pro version, but lately I’m realizing it’s in the best interest of free users to encourage them to upgrade. Why? Because purchasing Pro helps them in many ways. Without rattling off dozens of great Pro features, here’s a simple explanation why you should upgrade:

  1. It supports the product. WriterDuet is my full-time job, but it could be so much better if it were several people’s full-time job! If you value WriterDuet, giving us money to expand development benefits you.
  2. You get offline access to WriterDuet. I know you may be ~always online to write, but guess what: servers are terrible beasts and they are not always online. In fact, this post is spurred by some downtime we had today. And while I’m very disappointed by any server issues, if you have offline mode you’ll be largely unaffected (since our real-time data servers continued run fluidly, even collaboration still worked for Pro users).
  3. You get additional backup options. WriterDuet certainly has its own backup solutions, but it is always smart to have personal backups. WriterDuet Pro has options to automatically save to Google Drive, Dropbox, and your hard drive. While WriterDuet’s backups and infinite revision tracking should protect against loss of data… take responsibility for your own scripts, and make sure you are backing them up regularly.

There are tons of other reasons, but I’m highlighting the ones I think are most important to many people: accessibility of your work, reliability of the service, and improvements for the future. I’m very happy to offer a free version of WriterDuet, but if you appreciate what we’re doing over here (offering the best screenwriting software at a reasonable price), please upgrade to WriterDuet Pro today.

Revision tracking!

WriterDuet has had infinite revision tracking for a while, but there were a few things it was missing. Well, not anymore! It’s the most powerful revision tracking system of any screenwriting software… or possibly any writing software, period. Here’s a quick run-down of its features:

  • Revisions are always tracked without ever enabling change-tracking or saving a backup file. You can always view changes by date/time and writer(s), including text that was deleted (optional). You can even retroactively mark these changes as tracked in a revision.
  • Multiple revisions can be tracked at once, which means (for example) you can track a colored page revision for production while also tracking edits for a collaborator to review.
  • Manual marking/unmarking changes for specific revisions. Thus you can make changes under two revisions and your partner can unmark your changes in one of the revisions as they review them, without unmarking the change in another revision.
  • Either statically viewing all changes in the script (with deleted text), or use live-updating mode to see changes as they happen. Standard *’s go in the right margin.
  • Collaborators can either view/track the same revisions, or different ones. Thus you can be on a production revision (e.g. Blue) but also track your own changes independently.
  • Revisions can be ignored, which makes them essentially inverted – changes under that revision will not be displayed even if they’re part of another revision which is.
  • Arrow keys and shortcuts are available to go up/down the changed lines, without having to scan your script for asterisks.
  • You can even see the entire history of an individual line!

WriterDuet’s revision tracking does everything you need for production rewrites, reviewing collaborators’ work, and keeping a record of your own changes.

In other words, revisions = solved.

Simple visual updates

Okay, this really isn’t a big deal, but I know how scary change can be. So I’m posting to give you a heads up, with info on how to go back to the old way if you want. The new options are available by clicking the wrench icon, then Display. Here’s what changed:

  1. We added a scrollbar by default to the script, even when your Mac settings don’t usually show scrollbars. And if you already have scrollbars, the new scrollbar is customized a little bit. You can get rid of that setting, or add custom scrollbars other places they’re needed, by changing the “Custom scrollbars” checkboxes.
  2. We now transfer the colors from your outline to the scene cards on the left. If you don’t use card colors (or the outliner at all), nothing should changed. You can uncheck the “Color scene cards…” box to go back to normal.
  3. The last setting is not on by default, but we have a new option to compact the scene cards to the left of the script and only show the scene headers. To enable this, check the “Compact scene cards” box.

Like I said, these aren’t too crazy. But I hope this post prevents writers from questioning their sanity, and most importantly, from sending me hate mail. Enjoy the new options!

Introducing Client-Side Encryption

Cloud storage security: if that sounds like an oxymoron, keep reading. (Or don’t, this post might be pretty boring.) It’s a big problem, but I’ve come up with what I think is an excellent solution.

One of the basic problems with some cloud storage is that in order to return a file to the person who saved it, the server has to be able to read it. While it’s password-protected, that password is also sent to the server to verify file ownership, so that password is just protection from the outside world: nothing technically protects a lot of cloud storage from the inside.

But as of today, that’s changing in WriterDuet Pro with a new option: client-side encryption. Refresh the WriterDuet page twice to see it, via the wrench icon then Misc.

Client-side encryption means that your script content is not stored on WriterDuet servers in a manner that is readable by anyone unless they have an additional password which should never be sent to the servers. This additional password is needed only on you and your collaborators’ computers, encrypting/decrypting script content before/after it’s sent to/from WriterDuet servers.

Okay, this is a big deal, but I should add some qualifiers: no encryption is perfect, and I’m not a security expert. I’ve done a bunch of research and had a security analyst take a look at my code, but there is no guarantee about the encryption behavior (sorry).

More waivers:

  1. I could’ve missed a place where it should be encrypting (bad) and it’s possible there are places I missed that need to decrypt (not as bad, but you’d get a jumble somewhere). I’ve tested writing and outlining, examined the files that live on our servers, etc., but you can’t sue me if anything goes wrong! This is not guaranteed in any way. (Covering my a$$.)
  2. It doesn’t encrypt metadata about your script (e.g. title, number of lines, line types, names of authors, who made what changes, etc.) but it does encrypt script content, notes, chat messages, outline, names of characters, scene colors, emoticons, etc.
  3. Some functionality requires sending non-encrypted script data to WriterDuet servers. I tried to find any such places, and added a warning where you’d have to approve the sending. It’s not going to permanently store that data, but you should be aware. An important example is PDF generation, since that can’t be done in a browser, it has to send the non-encrypted script temporarily to our servers. Once the desktop program is fully released (coming soon!) that problem will be mitigated, since it creates PDFs offline.
  4. WriterDuet currently will not encrypt work done before you add the special password. The same is true for collaborators as well – they will be prompted to add the password once they’re online in the script and the password-required update comes through.
  5. The password should be easy for you to remember because it is *not* recoverable or resettable (that would defeat the purpose if it were), though you can optionally add a hint which is stored on our servers in case you want help remembering the password later.
  6. Because this is new, there’s a very unlikely (I hope) chance something could go wrong and your script will not be decryptable anymore, or a slightly more real chance you’ll forget the password and be SOL on getting your script back. You should use the local backup options to store non-encrypted files on your computer.
  7. Don’t share your script password in the message when you share with a collaborator. That message is sent by our servers, and thus would defeat the purpose of the password.

If you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear them. The encryption process is in its early stages, and I want to make sure everyone understands the process and limitations. It’s not guaranteed to keep scripts 100% secure, but that’s certainly what I’d like to do.

And if you happen to be a security analyst who wants to chat about my methodology, that’d be cool too. 😉

Introducing smart paste

The amazing David Wain shot a feature request to me on Twitter the other day – he wanted to paste Fountain text into WriterDuet and have it preserve formatting.

This is clearly a good idea, and I’ve long wanted to improve the brain-dead formatting in WriterDuet when you paste from another program (copying and pasting within WriterDuet worked properly, but not from Final Draft to WriterDuet, for example). So I took up the challenge and opportunity to perhaps become David Wain’s best friend, and put together something I think you will love:

Seamless copy-and-paste from Fountain or most other screenwriting program, preserving formatting perfectly in most cases.

That’s a pretty huge feature, and I don’t think any other screenwriting program offers it. I’ve tested pasting from Fountain text, Final Draft, Celtx, and a few others. It works extremely well in the Chrome and Safari browsers (not Firefox, because it loses the line spacing when pasting into that browser), and I’m excited.

This requires a very heuristic-based approach, since WriterDuet doesn’t know if you’re intending to paste in Fountain text. For non-Fountain it’s even harder, especially since different screenwriting programs send text differently on the clipboard (and they don’t include formatting). So please give it a try, and let me know if any text doesn’t paste in properly!

And by the way, this is part of the free version of WriterDuet, but you can thank me by purchasing WriterDuet Pro today. It’s extremely awesome! :-)

Another big update

WriterDuet keeps getting better, in preparation for the desktop application. I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing performance, and many of the improvements have helped the web app as well. In fact, the web app now loads up to 30% faster (in addition to another ~20% improvement recently), and uses a lot less memory.

Important note: The price of WriterDuet Pro will be increasing to a one-time cost of $69, and that price includes all Pro upgrades (including the upcoming desktop application). Also, a lot of Pro features which have been made available to free users (with explicit notes stating they are Pro-only) will be disabled for non-Pro accounts very soon. To continue using them, I highly recommend you upgrade now for the lower price.

Read more about the desktop app and changes regarding Pro features in free accounts.

Huge new WriterDuet Pro feature

Many people have requested this, and it’s finally ready: WriterDuet will soon be releasing a desktop application!

It will still sync online and work with the web app, but because it’s not confined to a browser the desktop version can directly open & save files on your hard drive, and generate PDFs while offline. There are a few browser-only capabilities (e.g. video chat), but it mostly works like the web app – only better. The desktop version of WriterDuet will run on Mac and Windows computers (Linux and Chromebook users can still work offline with the Pro web app).

Best of all, this is a free update for WriterDuet Pro users, and its future upgrades will be included as well. I highly encourage all non-Pro user to upgrade now because…

The one-time cost of Pro will be $69. That’s less than 1/3 the price of Final Draft, and WriterDuet is a much better product, so I think it’ll still be an excellent value. However, I want to encourage everyone to purchase WriterDuet Pro before then to get the current one-time price of just $44.95.

Important side note: some Pro features have been available to everyone, explicitly marked as Pro-only but still working on free accounts. I wanted give writers a feel for how amazing Pro is, but I’ll be disabling those features on non-Pro accounts. If you love WriterDuet, please support it by purchasing WriterDuet Pro – you (and I) will be very glad you did!

WriterDuet update

There’s been a lot of development the past few weeks in preparation for something big. I’m careful to try to keep everything working right, but be on the lookout for any unusual behavior, and please e-mail me if you see anything wrong. Not that I expect it, but you never know.

This update includes new font options including two new Courier fonts, and several variable width fonts. Variable width is highly non-standard in US screenplays, but is used in other countries, and can be a nice alternative while writing your script if you’re sick of seeing Courier every day. To keep things consistent, at the moment all fonts will result in identical page counts on any device and PDF, but I do not guarantee that will always be the case. I’ll gauge feedback on that first.

There are a lot of subtle changes and minor bug fixes that came up during the big new development. You might not notice much difference in behavior, but scripts now load quite a bit faster, and more improvements to that may be on the way.

Anyway, this is just a heads-up post. Be sure to let me know if you encounter a bug, so I can squash it right away. And enjoy the improvements!

WriterDuet reports

Unlike other screenwriting programs, WriterDuet Pro’s new report system shows and lets you edit specific parts of a script. For example:

When you’re cleaning up a draft, it’s often important that your characters speak consistently throughout the script. WriterDuet’s dialogue report lets you pick any character(s) to view, edit, and print/PDF just their dialogue. Or if you want to review only the scenes wither certain characters in them, same thing: it’ll show you those scenes and hide everything else. (That’s how you generate actor sides, by the way.)

Another report the other guys seem to be missing is one that prints script notes inline with the rest of your script. Final Draft lets you print just the notes, but without context that seems useless.

Another report WriterDuet offers is the ability to view & edit just the script’s non-dialogue (e.g. Action), plus a Shot list for when you’re writing a production draft. And the most entertaining report of all: WriterDuet’s time lapse feature lets you watch your script get written from start to finish, with custom colors for each writer.

WriterDuet reports are a great way to review and edit portions of your script, as well as sit back and watch the work you’ve done fly by.