Pagination pagination pagination (and pages)

March 1st, 2014 | by | screenwriting


The topic of screenplay pagination has come up a few different times in a few different places recently. No, really, it has. The explanation of things from Fade In’s point of view has been sitting half-typed on my laptop for a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d get it finished up and posted here.

Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software maintains the same screenplay pagination (i.e., page and line breaks, representing just how much fits on a given page) on all desktop platforms: Windows, Mac, and Linux. This is something professional screenwriting software has to do, so that no matter what setup you take a document to you still have the same pages1 — even if the old “rule” that a page of screenplay equals a page of screen time is, to anyone who’s actually been involved in turning a script into a movie, a very loose guideline at best.

Fade In Mobile for Android and iOS, on the other hand, does not. What it does instead (via an app setting currently categorized as “Experimental”) is provide an estimated/approximated page number for the current position in the document. So why does it do that?

The point of having a mobile app for screenwriting is so that you can work on a screenplay, on a device, on the go. At least that’s how I see it. Devices — even quad-core Android phones and 64-bit iPads — are, for a host of reasons that are mostly beyond going into here, currently far from being replacements for a full-time proper computer, at least for most professional writers. As a result, there are a whole bunch of things that professional screenwriting software does that you probably won’t be doing with your mobile device. For instance: making production revisions. Once the script pages are locked and you’re into colored revision pages for production rewrites, you’re not going to be doing them on your device. (That’s just one; there are many others.)2

But right now it’s sometimes handy to be able to do a little bit of work on your device, on the same screenplay document you’ve been working on on your computer, when you don’t happen to be sitting at your desk.

If you’ve got a ten-inch tablet or full-size iPad, it can display your screenplay with dimensions that are roughly equivalent to (if slightly smaller than) a printed page. But if your device is smaller than that, like a phone or mini tablet, you have two things you can do if you want to maintain the same pagination: shrink the full page — probably past the point of readability — to fit onscreen, or use some sort of floating window where you can only look at part of the page at once. Those are the only two options. I didn’t make up the rules — geometry did.

Of course, other than that you can do what Fade In Mobile has always done on smaller devices, which is to reflow the text to maintain the essential screenplay form without identical page and line breaks. That way, you can view and edit, in a screenplay format that — while not metrically identical to the industry standard layout — actually looks better on what you’re looking at it on. It wasn’t until a little later that, after people were asking for it, approximated page numbers were added.3

Whether or not you should be editing or even viewing screenplays on your phone is an exercise left to the reader.

(For instance, Fade In and John August & Co.’s Highland and Weekend Read can import a screenplay-formatted PDF and, within certain restrictions, parse it into a viewable/editable document. Which is actually quite a feat, seeing as PDF is one of the very worst file formats ever designed — it’s the only format I’m aware of that has a complete spec yet still actively defies you to parse it and, in its ubiquitous-therefore-we’re-stuck-with-it-but-why-on-earth-isn’t-there-something-better-ness, is to the document world what Javascript is to programming. And because there is no rhyme or reason as to how text may be contained in a PDF, the process of importing one is more akin to OCR than anything. So mistakes may be made in interpretation. Some things might not rendered as they are when viewing the straight PDF. And for any screenwriter who has ever labored over visual presentation, this will rightfully cause a case of the cold sweats.)

One thing that comes out of thinking about all this is that, overall, we’re printing fewer and fewer scripts. For production it’s handy to print pages out to put in a binder or back pocket, but for distribution and reading we use (argh) PDF more and more. And because we’re not actually dealing with physical copies, it’s reasonable to ask whether “pages” are all that important still. I think we’ll be talking in pages for some time to come, if only because it’s far easier to get everybody to refer to halfway through scene 65 at the top of page 31 as opposed to…well, I actually can’t think of another even semi-reasonable method of location. But in an increasingly all-digital world it’s interesting to think about.

It’s not inconceivable that someday my kids’ kids are going to be asking: “Grandpa, what’s a page?”4

  1. There is screenwriting software that doesn’t do that, that may vary the page count wildly if you change fonts or computers or printers, but it shall remain unnamed.
  2. Let’s imagine the reaction of any studio or network or production company with tens of millions of dollars on the line to “I can’t get a connection” or “Wait, I don’t know if it’s synced” or “I can’t get my device to wirelessly connect to the printer” while everyone stands around on set burning money.
  3. Page number approximation is based on a heuristic that may be, depending on how closely the document hews to an “average” screenplay, right on, slightly off, or more than slightly off.
  4. “And how, at your age, do you still remain so remarkably youthful and good-looking?”

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