Monday, February 20, 2012

Can you make a hard copy?

I was one of the first writers I knew who used a computer, inspired by my writer friend Steve Wright who had a Kaypro "portable computer" that weighed about 20 lbs. In 1986 I got an Atari (before they got solely into gaming) where you inserted the OS program, pulled it out and then inserted a floppy disc wherein you entered your screenplay disc.

One big disadvantage was the fact that you couldn't put a whole screenplay on a single disc and if you wanted to use Scriptor, arguably the first newly developed screenwriting software back then, you actually had to divide the screenplay into quarters. One disc would take 25% of the script, then the other, etc. When you were finished, you hoped the 4 different discs would print out one screenplay.

Still it was an improvement over writing. At least for me. I know there are people out there with typewriters who say it doesn't matter what you write with. And they are right.

For them anyways.

I was always a lazy writer, I didn't like rewriting on typewriters and with good cause. Because you had to retype the entire page just to change one or two lines of dialog. No easy cut and paste or copy. You had to retype the entire page over again even if the change was a single sentence.

You could also "white-out" the offending words with that white sticky substance that Michael Nesmith's* dad created (see Monkees). Then you'd roll the sheet of paper in again and line it up as close as possible in that whitened space. This worked for a sentence or two.

So when I got the Atari, I could actually move sentences around, whole sentences, even paragraphs. Amazing. It was even a greater change than when I got my first IBM Selectric, the King of typewriters. Before that I used a manual Underwood and an electric Smith-Corona.

Words now gone from our society. 

My first laptop was a Zenith I bought in 1989 and it had a 20meg Hard Drive. That's "meg" not "GB". And I figured this space was all I would need for the rest of my life. And it weighed only 12 lbs, and most of that was a battery.

Color screens didn't exist till much later.

But what I did like was the editing as I said, and it made me a better writer. Because now I could go back and change things I didn't like or the producer or director didn't like. My first feature, Ghostkeeper, was typed on a IBM but that was 9 years before the Zenith.

The next big stage came when we could actually send a screenplay through the internet. Before that we would print the screenplay or go to a printer or better a university copy room (much cheaper) and either mail or hand it over to whomever wanted it. 

That next stage was remarkable for a lot of reasons, the best being that we didn't have to print it on our printer and didn't have to pay copy shops. We saved money!! And faxing a screenplay could take a good 30 to 40 minutes, even an hour on your average fax machine. One page at a time!

But it all wasn't flowers and roses.

A lot of producers either didn't know how to receive screenplays or didn't have the right program. This was before universal PDF's. And they hated... and I mean hated... to read the screenplay off a computer monitor. One problem was that the screens weren't color yet and you had to read white on black or other basic colors.

And even when color monitors came out for everyone, and your script was a white page with black writing, they still didn't like it.

They liked to hold the screenplay, to feel the paper, it was real. The image on the screen wasn't. To tell you the truth, so did I. I would print a copy of a new script, sit down with a coffee and read it and use a red pen to make notes.

But eventually, all things change, and now it's the only way to send screenplays, everyone can read PDFs and even print them out if they want. 

We don't have to print them for anyone else too. 

Until today.

My agent friend wants to read two screenplays which he feels can interest a particular producer and he is computer-illiterate. I am trying to teach him cut and paste for a week now.

He wants "hard copies".

So now I have to print them out on my laser, punch holes in them and put those tiny, lovely copper "brads" into the holes. They're also called Brass Fasteners. I use these once or twice a year.

And I have to admit, I still do like to print out a fresh new screenplay and hold it in my loving hands and have one last look before I push it out into a cruel and uncaring world.

But there's another side to the story. For a long time I collected screenplays and often read them over and over. They sit in a rack in my office and I realized I hadn't read any of them for years....

Now I read other screenplays on my laptop screen and the stack of a hundred or so hard copies are collecting dust.

But I can't see throwing them out. Maybe I want to read Local Hero this year, or Hoosiers.

And I built that rack all by myself and I don't want to ever throw it out. Ever.

Oh, and Michael Nesmith, well, he was one of the made-up television rock group The Monkees and his father created White-Out, that miraculous substance that everyone used on their typewriters.

He's the one at the top. "Here we come...da da.."


  1. White Out - known the world over as Tippex!

  2. By the way - it was Mike Nesmith's mother.