Screenwriting Meets Simplicity: A Review of the New Screenwriting App Slugline
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the introduction of Slugline, a new Mac app for screenwriting from Stu Maschwitz and Clint Torres of Act Focused Media. The concept behind Slugline is to keep the app simple so screenwriters can focus on the writing. Slugline uses Fountain, the screenwriting markup language designed by Maschwitz with screenwriter John August, and adds a slight veneer of GUI to separate it from a plain text editor. Thanks to a review copy provided by Act Focused Media, I've had some time to work with Slugline to provide No Film School readers with a more in-depth review of this new Mac app.
First, here's a quick video introduction to Slugline in case you missed our original post:
What I Like About Slugline
Slugline has a clean interface with no distractions, optimized for Retina display. Your screenplay looks beautiful on the screen and that’s the only thing you see on your screen. No icons luring you into the Internet, no Twitter feeds updating you constantly on life's minutia, nothing but your screenplay. When you are striving to complete that first draft, removing all distractions so you can disappear into that world is key.
Slugline intuits your screenwriting. Slugline learns from your patterns and anticipates what element you are about to write.
Slugline has a versatile autocomplete pop-up menu. Because Slugline uses Fountain, which relies on text to determine script elements and formatting, Slugline has repurposed the Tab key to be a pop-up menu of Character names, Scene Headings and Transitions. Although a bit odd at first, after a little time with the app, I found this pop-up menu to be quite helpful. Also, as you start to type, the autocomplete feature kicks in (as the name "autocomplete" would suggest). For example, if you type E for the beginning of EXT., Slugline pulls up an autocomplete menu with EXT. plus every other Scene Heading that begins with EXT. and every character name that starts with E.
Slugline lets you outline throughout the main document using Fountain conventions, but won't print outline elements in the final document. Using pound (#) and equal (=) symbols, you can create an outline with various levels in your main document in Slugline. If you would like to see the outline next to your document, you can choose the Show Outline feature from the Outline menu, and Slugline displays your outline with the ability to customize which elements you want to appear (Scene Headings, Sections, Synopses, Notes). The outlining features are quite simple to allow writers to use them in a way that makes the most sense for their writing styles. For instance, if you use note cards to create scenes with brief synopses, you can add those to Slugline using the outline notation so you can see them embedded in your script as you write. If you want to add a scene in the middle of your script, you can use outline notation to insert a reminder with a synopsis for what that scene needs to be when you get around to writing it. Outline elements don't appear in the printed version of a screenplay, so you don't need to delete them from your Fountain file in Slugline.
Slugline lets you omit text as you rewrite. The ability to omit text rather than delete it is perfect for cutting parts of your script that you think you may need to reuse in later drafts or simply reference as you continue to rewrite. Omitted text is highlighted in blue on the screen, so it stands out as you write, but doesn't appear in the printed document when you print from Slugline.
What I Am Still Learning to Do in Slugline
I am still getting the hang of Fountain format. Surprisingly, writing in Fountain format gets easy pretty quickly, especially with help from Slugline with its intuition, but I think this is also a result of my familiarity with the screenwriting format itself. For screenwriting newbies, Fountain format could be a little challenging since those people aren’t even quite comfortable with screenplay format yet. Formatting with *italics*, **bold** and _underlining_ with Fountain makes sense, and Slugline even lets you use the old keyboard commands for each of these (but only after you have typed the word and highlight it). I usually hit the keyboard commands before I type the word, which doesn’t work in Slugline, so I need to retrain my brain to use asterisks and underscores instead.
I need to familiarize myself with the Caps Lock key. In the early stages of a script as characters are introduced, you need to use ALL CAPS to let Slugline know you are writing a Character who is about to speak dialogue. It’s not that big of a deal, but it takes a little while to switch out of the mindset of using the Tab key to get to a Character element and instead let Slugline know that you are creating a speaking Character. Once Characters have been established, the Tab key combined with the automated pop-up menu make this much less of an issue.
I need to get used to not seeing page breaks in my working screenplay document. I write in Page View mode in Final Draft, so I am accustomed to seeing page breaks as I write. I like to know how long my scenes are as I write them. At this point, I know when a scene is running too long, but I still like to see pages on the screen in real-time. Slugline makes it feel like I’m always writing at the end of a Jack Kerouac style scroll. I get it. It’s really just a text editor with a little GUI sprinkled on top, which is why I like it, and the Preview feature in Slugline lets me see my page breaks. Honestly, though, this will be a challenge for me as I write my next script. I hope it will actually free me up to focus on the story and not the page count.
How Slugline Could Be Improved
A free demo would be nice. The makers of Slugline were kind enough to give No Film School a review copy of their app, which we truly appreciate. It would be nice, however, if everybody had a way to try the app before they buy it. I realize $40 isn’t a ton of money, but it’s enough to give many pause before making the purchase. No one wants to spend $40 on an app only to discover they really don’t want to use it. I’m not a software developer, so I don’t know the challenges or disadvantages of offering a demo for an app like this, but if it’s possible to offer a demo version with limited capabilities that lets screenwriters try out the interface for a few days, that would be great and would hopefully lead to more buyers and ultimately satisfied customers.
Omitted text in Slugline isn't recognized properly in Highland. I realize this isn’t exactly a problem with Slugline, but I found some problems when exporting a Fountain file from Slugline to Highland, then using Highland to create an FDX file. This is important to me and many Final Draft screenwriters who ultimately plan to use the production features in Final Draft that Slugline has no desire to imitate, so we need Slugline and Highland to play nicely. First, the Omit formatting in Slugline wasn’t recognized in Highland. Instead, Highland interpreted it as italicized text between two forward slashes because /*omitted text looks like this in Slugline*/. If you rely on the Omit feature in Slugline over several drafts, this will become a formatting nightmare when converting your screenplay to FDX through Highland.
Notes embedded in the middle of paragraphs in Slugline confuse Highland. Also, Slugline lets you add notes anywhere in your script using double brackets. Highland, unfortunately, assumes that all text in a paragraph block that includes double brackets anywhere in that paragraph is a note. For example, [[if I put double brackets around a note like this in Slugline]], Highland would interpret all of the text in this entire paragraph as a note and hide this entire paragraph from the printed version of the screenplay. That's a problem when you want the rest of your paragraph to show up in the printed version of the screenplay. For Highland to recognize a note distinct from everything else, it needs the note to be in its own standalone paragraph block when exported from Slugline. That’s not helpful when the note needs to be embedded in the middle of a block of text. I've submitted a report card to Quote-Unquote Apps via Highland regarding both of these issues, so I imagine these issues will eventually be fixed in a future update of Highland.
Slugline isn't trying to replace or compete with screenwriting software that includes production features. Maschwitz and Torres recognize that for the majority of the creative process, screenwriters don't need those production features. Instead, they need to focus on writing their stories. Slugline is a Mac app intended to get out of the writer's way so the story can get on the page. At $40, this Mac app is also reasonably priced. As always, filmmakers can find free screenwriting software alternatives, so when making a screenwriting software purchase, the cost should be weighed against the value to the particular screenwriter. For me personally, I think Slugline may be the screenwriting app I never knew I wanted.
Want to try Slugline yourself? You can buy Slugline now at the Mac App Store for $40.
Do you think Slugline may be right for you? Which Slugline features do you think would help your screenwriting process the most? Is $40 a reasonable price for a Mac app like Slugline? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments.