In praise of Highland 2


The industry standard NLE (or Non-Linear Editor) for the TV drama/feature film industry is Avid’s Media Composer. It’s been around for many years, and the film industry’s entire post-production ecosystem is built around it. It’s complex, sophisticated, professional, and rock-solid. And as dull as hell.

It’s really clunky piece of software, that abandoned real innovations to filmmaking years ago. Arguably the most innovative alternative in the professional NLE space is Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. (the “x” is pronounced “ten”. It’s a roman numeral.) But it’s almost too different and radical for Hollywood. Only a handful of big-budget feature films have been cut on it. But its refreshing approach has been embraced by the rest of the industry outside of the conventional TV/feature film world. And by revenue, the corporate/communications/weddings/etc market is overall WAY bigger than TV/features.

So if you want to to be a feature film editor these days, do you need to learn Avid? Sure. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it to make your own films. There’s loads of great – and sometimes even free – alternatives.

The same goes (even more so) for screenwriting applications. I mean, you can use anything to write a screenplay, and there’s even some brilliant free applications that will help with industry-standard formatting, etc.

Final Draft is very much the Avid of screenwriting. It’s the industry standard. Whole pre and post-production workflows are built around it in the film/TV industry. If you work in that business as a screenwriter, there’s a strong chance you’re going to have to use it. It’s expensive, complex, sophisticated, and yes, like Avid, dull as hell. Unlike Avid, I wouldn’t describe it personally as “rock-solid” though.

However, just like the NLE world, there’s other great – and even free – alternatives. One that’s cheap and – for me – just like the Final Cut Pro X of the screenwriting world is Highland 2.

It uses the Fountain language. This is a version of markdown for screenplays, and if you have any knowledge at all of writing to industry standard screenplay formats, you’ll get this easily.

Check it out if you can. I’m no good at reviews, so you’re best getting those elsewhere. I will say this: worry about getting Final Draft once you’ve sold your screenplay, and need to start collaborating with others. Or if you need to work with others using industry standard tools for whatever other reason. Until then, you only need to get it on the page. And for me, I haven’t found anything as good for that as Highland 2.