Final Draft Creates Template to Remove Barriers for Differently-Abled Writers
May 16, 2023
Films like Everything Everywhere All At Once, CODA, Inside Out, Champions, and Silver Linings Playbook all have something extraordinary in common: they include a spectrum of neurodiverse characters of differing abilities.
Not only are these movies celebrated by critics, some even winning Oscars, they are making money at the box office and bringing new viewers to streaming sites.
While it’s no secret the Hollywood film industry has long had a diversity and inclusion problem, both in front of and behind the camera, there’s recently been a growing need for more accurate and nuanced depictions of disabled and neurodiverse characters on screen.
But getting these stories of “otherness” to the big screen can be a challenge. Now, in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in film, Final Draft is partnering with the TAPE Community Music and Film to create a new script template that will remove barriers for some storytellers and encourage more neurodiverse people to share their own stories on film.
Fighting For Inclusion
Steve Swindon is from Colwyn Bay in Wales where he co-founded and is currently the Creative Director for TAPE, an inclusive community arts non-profit that focuses on creating opportunities in film and music for people of all abilities.
Part of Swindon’s job involves partnering with first-time filmmakers who are neurodiverse or might have learning disabilities and helping them tell their stories.
Everyone knows that a movie starts with a script, but for some people, formatting their ideas into screenwriting software can be very difficult. Hoping to solve this problem, Swindon reached out to Final Draft’s product manager, Mario Moreno, to see if he’d be interested in working on a screenwriting template that would empower neurodiverse writers who may have learning disabilities to more easily format their scripts.
Partners on a Mission
To Swindon’s delight, Moreno was excited to partner on the project. “We had already been prioritizing accessibility work for Final Draft 12,” says Moreno, who mentioned adding software updates to support the JAWS screenreader on Microsoft Windows and VoiceOver screenreader on Mac (both are for the visually impaired). “But when Steve came to us, this was a different group of writers and storytellers that were seeking assistance in terms of how the information was laid out on the page,” he says.
To create the template they are calling “Easy Write,” Swindon ran workshops with learning disabled and neurodiverse filmmakers in the UK. He wanted to introduce the software to this group and then start to deconstruct the screenwriting template within Final Draft so that it could be reconstructed in a way that supported people who needed to work differently. “We looked at the interface and started to think about what changes people would like to see,” says Swindon, adding, “Some of those changes are enormous, pretty time consuming, and not first phase pieces of work at all. But some of them were immediately doable. And Mario has been so brilliantly supportive and engaged with the project, but also realistic. He's managed expectations in a really proactive and supportive way, which is really useful because we're trying to encourage engagement and involvement and creativity and remove barriers rather than put them in the way.”
Steve found that for this group of storytellers, the biggest barrier to writing a screenplay was the language the software used. “We looked at the kind of core elements of a screenplay and the language that people may find difficult. For example, ‘Scene heading.’ There's a certain amount of understanding that's required as to what that might be. Same with ‘Dialogue,’ same with ‘Character,’ same with ‘Action.’ The group looked at those, looked at that language and agreed that it needed to function differently to support their idea going down onto a page.”
How It Works
To make it easier, they devised a series of questions the software could ask the writer. Swindon explains: “Instead of saying ‘Character,’ people answer the question ‘Who's speaking?’ Instead of ‘Action,’ which can be construed in a number of different ways and was problematic for people, it asks, ‘What's happening?’ It's encouraging people to answer a series of questions which I think is brilliant because it's a very positive starting point. So, it will look very different and the size of the font itself will change to be an ‘Easy Read’ font.”
Swindon says these are just a few fundamentals taking shape in the first stage of creating the new interface. Others include color coding the elements in the screenplay to help the writer track where they are in the script.
When the new template is ready, it will be part of an update that will be free for all Final Draft 12 users. Moreno himself is very excited about the new template and says it’s something the whole team at Final Draft feels passionate about.
“It touches on our mission which has always been to empower writers and to make writing easier for them,” says Moreno. “There was this spot that had not really been addressed because we were unaware of a need. But once it was presented to us, it became part of our mission as well,” he says.
Moreno says the research has been surprisingly emotional. “When you hear about what they're trying to do and the difficulty these writers have, it'll sometimes bring tears to your eyes. We almost take for granted, being able to tell the stories that we envision. Other people don't always have those opportunities. Not that everything in life is fair, but there are things that can be done to help.”
Moreno is excited to see what stories will come out of these diverse writers once this template is available. “Who knows what voices will come out of this or what impact they'll have on their audience and on other people who maybe have been scared to try to tell their own stories – who will now feel emboldened to sing.”
Swindon agrees, “For these underrepresented voices, seeing their work, seeing themselves reflected back through stories on screen, it's massively important. I love the idea of breaking some ground in a way that is led by the people who need that groundbreaking.”
Look for the “Easy Write” template in a Final Draft 12 update later this year.
Written by: Shanee EdwardsShanee Edwards is an L.A.-based screenwriter, journalist and novelist who recently won The Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer and was honored to be mentored by actress/producers America Ferrera. Shanee's first novel, Ada Lovelace: The Countess Who Dreamed in Numbers was published by Conrad Press in 2019. Currently, she is working on a biopic of controversial nurse Florence Nightingale. Shanee’s ultimate goal is to tell stories about strong, spirited women whose passion, humor and courage inspire us all.
- Final Draft 12