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Who are Nisus' "Santa's helpers"?

Posted: 2004-09-30 01:27:02

It'd be interesting for Nisus fans to know -- and to put a human face on them -- about the people responsible for building Nisus Express. I've been wondering this for a LONG time! How many are there? Exactly what does each do in relation to Express? What kind of internal feedback/project discussions do you have? What kind of task quotas must they meet each day? How much time do they spend on Express? Socially how do they interact? What do they think of criticism, constructive or otherwise? What are their ages and interests and backgrounds? What kind of environment are they working in? What are their side interests? What are eaches own "dream project"?

These people should know that their work is much appreciated, and we'd appreciate it even more by knowing them.

Thanks to the whole mysterious crew over there!

James Greenidge

Posted: 2004-09-30 06:59:37
by Tom Gorham
I found this a very interesting read.

Nisus Screenwriter

Posted: 2004-09-30 11:28:36

Thanks a mint for Todd's account of his adventure at Nisus! Nisus's location behind a beauty parlor kinda reminds me of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." where ultra-hi tech U.N.C.L.E. HQ was discretely hidden behind a homely mom and pop tailor shop...

>> (Charles also liked my idea about someday building screenwriting software based on the Nisus code, that would aim to be a “Final Draft killer”. There’s many a screenwriter hoping that happens, I know.)<<

I'll profess my programming ignorance here, but isn't there a quick and dry way of acheiving a screenwriting program as a module to Nisus Writer, er, Nisus Express instead of re-inventing the whole wheel?

Wishing and Hopeing!

James Greenidge

FD Killer

Posted: 2004-10-02 20:15:40
by Todd
Glad you enjoyed my account of my trip to Nisus HQ. The people there certainly put the ‘nice’ in Nisus, as they were gracious hosts who welcomed an unannounced stranger like myself as if I were part of the family.

Regarding Final Draft, I have been desperate to find a well engineered application for screenplay-writing for many years. Final Draft is an ugly, buggy, expensive holdover from the days of OS 7, yet due to lack of any real competition, they remain the dominant force of the industry.

Not being one to resign myself to cruel fate, I once broke out the Apple Developer Tools and began to teach myself objective-C and cocoa. Screenwriters don’t use 80% of the frilly features in Final Draft, anyway, so I figured that even a bare-bones cocoa screenwriting application would earn me a lot of fans. I could charge $20 for ToddWriter Express (a tenth of Final Draft’s price) and make a lot of people happy. I set out to be Final Draft’s worst nightmare.

If Charles Jolley is reading this, I’m sure that he can predict the unhappy ending. Learning objective-C was much, MUCH harder than I’d thought. After a month of dedicated effort, all I had was smoke coming out of my ears and one hell of a good looking GUI. Nothing else worked. I couldn’t tell my classes from my instances. It was a total failure.

I still believe that a talented cocoa programmer could bring Final Draft to its knees without too much effort. A no-frills screenwriting application with the Nisus look and feel, for example, could forever alter the way Hollywood does business. It would probably have to be able to import Final Draft files, too. At $100, I believe there would be thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of paying customers for such a product.

Charles did express some interest in building a “Final Draft Killer”, though I got the sense that such a project would have to wait for the distant future. In the meantime, might it be possible to create character and dialogue-indents using Nisus macros?

Posted: 2004-10-02 22:03:48
by charles

We have actually done some research into creating some special tools for Final Draft. We have been trying to figure out what features are really important to a screen writer. Is it just the templates? How about all the prewriting tools, such as being able to put together a story on "card"?

Now that 2.0 is out we can actually think about doing some things like this!


FD Killer

Posted: 2004-10-03 00:27:58
by Todd
More than most kinds of writing, screenwriting is about adhering to strict formatting rules and constant word-repetition. The screenwriter wants to be freed from this drudgery so he can focus on being a creative artist, writing plot and dialogue.

If you’re serious about making a Final Draft Killer – and I hope that you are – I suggest you pick up a copy of Final Draft and try to write a short script on it. You’ll learn (1) what many of the key features are, (2) how badly Final Draft implements these features, and (3) how much better screenwriting would be the Nisus Way™ – that is, with a little thoughtfulness and a lot of cocoa.

(N.B. Having given up on the product, I've refused to buy their latest incarnation, Final Draft 7. It may be a significant improvement over version 6, but judging by the VersionTracker reviewers who are begging for a cocoa version, I doubt it very much. See: )

Let me list what I think the key features for a bare-bones Nisus ScreenWriter should be. This list covers the features that screenwriters really need, that aren’t already in NWX. Sure Final Draft has dozens upon dozens of additional features, but for the most part they’re dispensable frills that are rarely, if ever, used.

Nisus ScreenWriter needs:

- Industry-standard preset margins, indents, alignment and spacing for: dialogue, characters, action, parentheticals, more&continueds, scene headings and scene transitions. (Probably not too different from templates and style sheets.) These need to be precise, as agents and studios are persnickety about formatting. Sets for playwrights also would be appreciated, I'm sure.

- A lightning-fast and intuitive way for the writer to switch among these presets selectively, on a line-by-line basis. (I haven’t used NWX’s style sheets enough to know if it already does this well.) Macros for each preset would be a plus.

- Smart Autocomplete for character names, parentheticals, and transitions. (Picture how repetitious it was for Herman Mankiewicz to keep retyping the character name “KANE” everytime Kane speaks in “Citizen Kane”.) Instead of listing every word in the English language, the autocomplete should limit the choices to the cast of characters in the script.

- Smart Autoformat. As soon as I type “INT.” or “EXT.”, Nisus ScreenWriter should autoformat the line as a scene heading. Likewise, when I hit return after writing a character name, NSW should autoformat to the dialogue preset. And vice-versa; when I hit return in the dialogue preset, it should autoformat to character.

- Dual Dialogue. Sometimes characters need to speak simultaneously, and the dialogue needs to reflect this by being side to side. It’s like having two columns of dialogue, but only on rows that the writer selects.

- Automatic scene numbering.

- Widow and orphan control. Character names can’t be left hanging at the bottom of pages.

- Add the ability to do all of these things inside of tables and columns, and you’ll also win market share away from their other product, Final Draft AV.

- Final Draft file format import/export

- Not required, but definitely extra points for Microsoft Word import/export

- An aggressive marketing campaign. Keep in mind, Final Draft is as pervasive in Hollywood as Microsoft Word is in business. But writers are an independent-minded bunch who've been stuck with a lousy app for a decade; I'd bet they're more open to change than most.

The Breakover Screenwriter Feature

Posted: 2004-10-03 02:36:25

If there's one single feature that'd make my writing day is for a word processor to just simply do Mores and Continueds! I can grit my teeth doing the manual paragraph ruler thing and search/replace characters and naming, but a More/Continueds feature separates the men from the boys in not having to waste lots of #$&* time reformating your whole script just because you make some major insertions and deletions.

Praying for a NE (or NW 6.5!) "More & CONT'Ds" module!!

James Greenidge

Posted: 2004-10-03 10:53:44
by charles
Hi Todd and James:

Thank you very much for your excellent replies to me question! We will continue to investigate this opportunity. Offhand, it sounds like most of what you are wanting could be added without too much effort using Languages and Styles. Of course, as Todd said, scripts have very specific formatting requirements which makes this harder than it sounds. :)

One other question for you: I did get Final Draft several months ago after Todd visited and played with it some. But I have never written a script so I am sure I did not recognize all the features it had available. Is there a book or other source you recommend for me to learn the "anatomy" of a script or screenplay?


Magic Screenwriter

Posted: 2004-10-03 11:28:28

Fetch Magic Screenwriter. My choice if I could afford it.

Now, as much as I'd love for you to plug all these features in Express, a bare-bones screenwritng capability would be just as useful and faster to build. More/CONT'Ds head the list. I already do the paragraph formating thing pretty well via Styles. Nothing elaborate, just bare-bones and you and the Cocoa Rabbi got my bucks!

James Greenidge

Posted: 2004-10-03 11:30:36
by Todd
Cole & Haag have come to define the industry standard for screenplay formatting. See: ... ce&s=books

Warner Brothers also has a popular format that you can find in Final Draft.

About scene “cards” that you mentioned earlier: Final Draft has a rigid, rudimentary system for this, so I never thought it very helpful. But the way that Nisus implements its palettes – highly moveable and flexible – might make an “aquafied” card system very useful. A screenwriter wants to be able to see all his scenes and then play with them (like an old hypercard stack or iMovie timeline) in order to change their order and sequence to see what works best.