Web 2.0 is a phrase that refers to the new direction of the Internet: web applications that function through your browser, also known as “web apps”. For example, word processing is now available for free straight from your Internet browser from a dozen different sources, including the very slick Buzzword, Google Docs, Zoho Writer, and others. That means you don’t need to buy MS Word or any other word processor, as long as you have an Internet connection. And your documents are available from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an Internet connection. Similarly, spreadsheets that compete with Excel and Lotus are also beginning to be available through web apps. So, how does this relate to screenwriting?
The folks at Zhura were kind enough to invite me to test drive their new screeenwriting web app at, where else, zhura.com. The idea is that you no longer need to buy any screenwriting software; you can just write your script online and, when you’re done, download it in pdf format for submission to your favorite Hollywood mogul.
Before writing this post, I took some time to play with this new toy and even asked Zhura some questions, which they quickly answered. At first, I was put off by all of the “corroberation” features. When you arrive at the front page, you see a world that looks different than that of any serious screenwriter – namely, open access to everyone’s drafts and ideas, free collaboration, and no way to ever protect your intellectual property. That is the “Public” side. It is the opposite of what working writers need. However, I quickly discovered the “Personal” side, where everything is private, your files are not accessible to anyone, and you use the web app pretty much like you would use any screenwriting software. You can even give access to anyone you want, such as your writing partner, so he or she can access the work from any Internet connection. It automatically saves, keeps revisions, and allows you to revert to a previous draft.
The fun of this program is that (i) it’s free; (ii) it works pretty well; and (iii) it exports to Final Draft (in txt format) and likely most other screenwriting programs (I don’t use others, so I couldn’t test it on them). However, it is a beta program and still has a some drawbacks, which the folks at Zhura tell me they are working slavishly to address even as you read this. First, for a full length screenplay, I found the web app sluggish, which took me right out of my work. The last thing I want to think about while writing is the software. However, for shorter pieces, and even for longer pieces if you break them up into separate files, it worked fine. Second, it does not show traditional page breaks until you save as a pdf or export as a txt. That means, while you are writing, you have to guess where you are in the script. That is a problem I have seen in other recent programs as well. Zhura says they are also working on that issue. Finally, it does not have some of the bells and whistles common to the most popular screenwriting software, including, for example, the ability to change page length by imperceptibly changing line spacing. I would not be surprised to see all of these issues addressed in the future.
In summary, I can’t say Zhura is quite there yet, at least not for the working writer or the aspiring to be working writer. It needs to have all of the features of the major screenwriting software to do that. However, it is a huge step in the right direction, a lot of fun to play with, and (with luck) will add the features needed to be really competitive. It is definitely worth signing up and checking out. Let me know what you think.
Enough. Now go write.