John August’s Courier Prime

This week saw the release John August’s new (free) typeface, Courier Prime:

By standardizing around one typeface set at a specific size, we can take advantage of some rules-of-thumb.

For example, one page of screenplay (roughly, sometimes) equals one minute of screen time. More importantly, producers can be assured that a 119-page draft really is shorter than a 140-page draft. Unlike college freshmen, screenwriters can’t fiddle with the font to change the page count.

The biggest problem with Courier is that it often reveals its low-res heritage. Designed for an era of steel hitting ribbon, Courier can look blobby, particularly at higher resolutions.

But it doesn’t have to.

August and designer Alan Dague-Greene worked hard to retain the feel of a classic while improving it for a new generation of digital screenwriters and screenreaders. “I wanted a font that could be substituted letter-for-letter with Courier Final Draft,” August writes, “but look better, both on-screen and printed. I wanted a bolder bold and real italics, not just slanted glyphs.” This effort points to an often-overlooked truth about design and the screenplay — that the reading of text on a page is itself an aesthetic experience. Far from being utilitarian documents, it matters how screenplays look. In addition to being story authors, screenwriters are user interface designers.

Writes August: “What the screenwriter pulls out of the typewriter isn’t a manuscript to be sent to the publisher — it’s the final product” (emphasis mine). Only a screenwriter would view his work as the final product (as opposed to the “blueprint” for a movie), but August’s attitude may indicate a new, design-centered avenue for screenplay studies. How often do screenwriters make decisions based on how the text looks on the page?

For a more detailed consideration of Courier’s historical lineage and the future of digital screenwriting, I highly recommend Kathryn Millard’s article in the Journal of Screenwriting, “After the Typewriter: the Screenplay in a Digital Era” (free PDF download).

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