Monday, November 5, 2001


“I mean, what’s the point of living in L.A. if you’re not in the movie business?” the character coolly played by actor Delroy Lindo says.

That dream of breaking into “the business” fuels the lives of many people here, including those who want to write screenplays such as Scott Frank’s excellent adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, which hit cinemas in 1995.

But, as Marc Madnick, a former University of Maryland student, explained to me the other day, writing a screenplay is a bit different from most forms of writing. Actually, he says, it’s the formatting that’s different.

“I use Microsoft Word to write a letter, and it’s a great word processor,” Mr. Madnick says. “But in a script, there are things that have to be there that Word just can’t do.”

Studio rules dictate that character names are centered above blocks of dialogue. If a character’s particular passage goes from the bottom of one page to another, the word “MORE,” in capital letters, has to appear and the character’s name is centered above the continuation of the text on the next page.

Getting these and other requirements “just right” with a traditional word processor took more time than writing: “I’d spend an hour on a page and 90 minutes formatting it,” Mr. Madnick says.

Ten years ago, Mr. Madnick and partner Ben Cahan another Terrapin stole away from their film industry day jobs to create the first version of “Final Draft,” a word processor designed specifically for the organization and writing of movie scripts. Starting on the Macintosh platform still favored by many here and eventually moving to Windows computers, Final Draft has won plaudits from actor/writer/director Tom Hanks, “NYPD Blue” creator Steven Bochco, director Oliver Stone and writer/director Robert Altman.

Mr. Altman, noted for “Nashville” and other films, “sent us a Christmas basket one year that you just wouldn’t believe,” Mr. Madnick recalls, noting that the firm’s Encino, Calif., office is lined with autographed movie posters sporting tributes to Final Draft.

Selling for $249, the software has both Mac and Windows versions on a single CD-ROM, and the makers say files created on one computing platform will open easily on the other. There are collaboration features if you’re working with a partner, as well as a component which lets you outline a script using on-screen “index cards” that are easy to rearrange.

But, mostly, the software lets a writer concentrate on the elements of writing while it handles the formatting. The firm has also released an “AV” version of the software, useful for those who write speeches, industrial films and commercials.

Business is, apparently, good, since the software firm now employs 30 persons and has legions of fans in the film trade as well as those aspiring to be there.

Along with the software, the firm is giving the next generation of screen writers a hand. Final Draft has begun taking entries for its annual “Big Break” screenplay contest. Now in its third year, the contest has become one of the most popular in Hollywood due to previous winners’ success and its generous prize structure.

The first contest’s winning script was a comedy about a commitment-phobic single man. That script, “Dawg,” was written by Ken Hastings, and has since been produced and shot by Gold Circle Films as a feature starring Elizabeth Hurley and Denis Leary. The year 2000 winner “Breathing Underwater,” by Torye Mullins, has been optioned by the Stephen J. Cannell Studio.

This year’s top contest winner will receive $10,000 plus an expense-paid, three-day trip to Los Angeles to meet studio executives and agents. The contest’s second prize is $3,000, and the third prize is $1,000. The top 10 scripts will be submitted to a Hollywood literary agent and each writer will receive a copy of Final Draft Scriptwriting Software, a one-year subscription to Creative Screenwriting Magazine and Script Magazine, a $50 gift certificate from The Writer’s Computer Store and a copy of The Hollywood Creative Directory Producers Guide. Complete contest rules and entry forms may be downloaded from

I’m one of those few who has no current ambitions to write for the movies, but I admire the enterprise shown by Mr. Madnick and Mr. Cahan. If you’ve been bitten by the screenwriting bug, their software may well be worth a look.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to, or visit the writer’s Web page, Talk back live to Mark on every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern Time.

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