Saturday, April 20, 2024

Writers’ app levels up, thanks to ‘Aladdin’ scriptwriter

There are apps available now for writers and one of them was designed by one of their own. He is none other than accomplished Hollywood scriptwriter and novelist John August.

John August

Aside from penning the scripts for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Big Fish,” “Charlie’s Angels” and most recently, “Aladdin,” August is also the author behind the “Arlo Finch” fiction fantasy novel series.

In 2012, August and his team launched the original Highland writing app. Then in May 2018, an updated version was released — Highland 2.

Leveling up the app continues as Highland 2.5 was unveiled on June 12 this year in Los Angeles. The latest Highland edition boasts of the features August and his group were planning to add. These were outlined in the Roadmap of Features which they published upon announcement of Highland 2.

With new templates, samples, and more new and upgraded features — including ones based on feedback and requests from users — Highland 2.5 is a one-stop-shop writing tool for writers of varying levels. Aside from screenplays and novels, the app may also be tapped for writing blogs, pitches, comic books, and school papers.

Among the writing app’s new features are:

  • Revision Mode Track — This feature allows the writer to track changes using three colors and stars which appear in the editor. It is one of the most requested and anticipated features.

“When working on a rewrite, screenwriters commonly use colored text and stars in the margins to indicate what’s changed between drafts. In most screenwriting apps, it’s a daunting, error-prone process. With Highland 2.5’s new Revision Mode, it’s a simple on-off switch. The resulting PDF matches the Hollywood industry standard, but the process getting there is much simpler and more intuitive,” he reveals.

Now working on the last book of his “Arlo Finch” series, August relates how Revision Mode Track has been helping him so far.  “I’ve been able to keep track of changes on drafts,” he says. “It’s a huge time saver.”

  • Drag and Drop Navigator — Outlining, revising or re-ordering parts of the piece become easier and faster with this feature.
  • Custom Themes — “Go beyond Highland 2’s 11 built-in themes with our new interactive theme builder. Customize your colors, then share your creation with one-click install into Highland 2,” August explains
  • Word Analysis — This tool was added to check for consistency, avoid repetition, analyze and mark certain words. Among those to be marked are words not in the dictionary, words used only once, and words with different versions in American and UK English.
  • Stoppable Sprints — With Interruptible Sprints, the writer may quit a Sprint before the time is up without worrying over lost credits. Recent Sprints records his total writing time and the number of words he has written
  • Updated Manuscript Template — Also now available as a Basic Template, the tool provides the user with all the options to make an industry-standard book submission possible.
  • Title Page Builder — This works not just for screenplays alone but for all templates.
  • Refreshed UI — This feature has been added to improve consistency and clarity, allow an integrated title bar, allow a custom theme to extend to the edges, for full support for Mojave Dark Mode and custom highlight colors, and for an updated typography.
  • New Launch Screen — The writer will be off to a good, quick start with sample documents and easy access to video tutorials.
  • Updated Cheat Sheet — This feature integrates the Fountain and Markdown Cheat Sheets for the convenience of writers.

Other new features include the Custom Alignment for Document Headers and Footers which lets a writer align header and footer elements accordingly as well as What’s New Window which will inform him about any update to the app.

Not that Highland 2 hasn’t got great features in the first place. It was the first screenwriting app to have a Gender Analysis Report to track male and female characters in the story and their speaking parts.

August also credits the Include and Chapter features as “godsend for assembling the whole document.” He writes his chapters in separate files, he says. Highland 2 also has a Goals and Sprints feature to keep the writer’s motivation, among other pre-existing functions.

“Most writing software is designed for writers rather than by writers. While it’s easy to add a bunch of features that seem useful, our focus has always been on tools that writers will want to use every day, and stripping out all the cruft,” says August. “In many ways, simplicity is a feature.”

And because the app was developed by writers, it provides them with a better way to write, he adds.  “You never have to tell it how to format something. It just intuits which elements are which. Unlike in the 1990s when scriptwriters were using Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter.”

According to the Hollywood screenwriter, both gave writers a better way to churn out their screenplays as compared to using Microsoft Word. Yet, challenges remained: The writers had to label every element in their screenplay to distinguish which part is a dialogue, an action or a transition so the computer program would know.

“Computers are smart enough and fast enough to understand what’s what and handle the formatting for you. That’s what Highland 2 does.” says August. “It lets a writer focus on the words, not the margins.”

As he has been writing his scripts and novels entirely on the app, he gets to spot the gaps. He recalls the time he was working on “Aladdin” and was including the lyrics.

“I needed them italicized, with slightly wider margins than standard dialogue,” relates August. “Because our design and coding team was 10 feet away, we could iterate on changes to get exactly the right look and squash any bugs that came up.”

The app now has almost 100,000 users mostly from the United States. However, the numbers from other parts of the globe including Mexico and Denmark are growing.

It may be downloaded for free in the App store.

“You’ll get our most popular templates and full functionality of the app, but your pages will include a small watermark. We offer an in-app upgrade for a one-time fee of $50 that unlocks everything and removes the watermark,” says August who is also currently working on a script for the latest version of the well-loved musical “Grease.”


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