Open Screenplay Format

February 12th, 2012 | by | screenwriting


There were a couple of discussions about Fountain here and there in the last few days, and one thing that came up was how a plain-text format screenplay was futureproof and therefore safer for long-term storage than a proprietary binary format.

That’s the reason that Fade In uses Open Screenplay Format.

The part about proprietary binary formats is true. For instance, the old1 Final Draft file format (.fdr) is readable by very few programs. Final Draft Inc. keeps the spec private and, regardless, it’s apparently very closely tied to the internals of Final Draft. If they ever go out of business and the software is no longer available, it’s quite possible those documents will no longer be editable — or even readable on a computer — at all.

So what people like about plain text is that it can never be made obsolete — at least not until people stop reading and writing, period.

Open Screenplay Format is XML, and without getting too technical about what XML is (other than standing for eXtensible Markup Language), suffice it to say that it’s the primary interchange format for data in the digital world. XML is plain text, too (of a sort), although both strictly structured and highly flexible. It can be very difficult for humans to read and edit by hand, but it is very easy for computers to work with.

Open Screenplay Format was designed independently of the way Fade In works: it was created specifically to be a concise, clear, and robust way to store the content of a screenplay. That includes all the locking and revision information and other metadata — things that would be hard to express cleanly in a plain-text format like Fountain, at least not without dropping the label “human readable”. Open Screenplay Format consolidates some fairly complicated things in a very straightforward manner. It’s easily implemented by another program; for instance, Fade In Mobile’s file parser (which is entirely separate from that of the desktop software) was implemented from the ground up in about half a day.2

Fade In’s .fadein files are essentially just zipped Open Screenplay Format documents.

So there you go. Two hundred years from now we’ll all (still) be happily reading and editing Fade In screenplays.

  1. “Old” in this case means anything before the most recent version of Final Draft.
  2. In fairness, it should be mentioned that both Final Draft’s .fdx format and Adobe Story’s .story format are XML-based, too. But they’re both considerably more complex than Open Screenplay Format, and in both cases they’re much more closely tied to their respective applications.

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