First movie script written with computer or word processor?

One of those unattributed factoids I picked up somewhere years ago was that Pretty Woman was the first studio film to be written on a computer instead of a typewriter. Years later, it occurs to me that I have no idea if that’s true or not. It came out in 1990, a few years before I got my first computer and around the time private computer ownership became commonplace, but professional screenwriters are certainly ahead of the curve on things like this. TRON would actually have been my first guess.

Anyway, does anyone here actually know what was the first studio release to be written on a computer or word processor?

Word processing systems started rolling out in non-trivial numbers around 1970. Linolex Systems sold 3 million unit in 1975.

In 1978 Wordstar, the first widely distributed word processing software (vs bundled) came out.

I was using RUNOFF in the mid 1970s. It dates to 1964. Not a WYSIWYG system but would have been fine for scripts. David Gries’s Compiler Construction for Digital Computers was computer text formatted and came out in 1971. (I still have my copy.)

Pretty Woman came out far, far too late to remotely have been the first.

3 weeks ago, Evelyn Berezin was in the obits. She is one of many people who have had the title of “inventor of the word processor” bestowed on them. She started her company in 1969.

Word processors were common in places like newsrooms in the 70s and 80s, not so common in private homes, where most screenwriters work. I knew a number of reporters well into the 80s who submitted their stories on typing paper and composed them on a Smith-Corona. PRETTY WOMAN sounds unlikely, I know, but MIDNIGHT COWBOY and THE GRADUATE sound unlikely in the other direction.

I’m pretty sure Final Draft was the first word processor that was designed specifically with the screenplay format in mind, and it’s been around since 1990, so that could maybe fit in with the Pretty Woman timeline. But wikipedia shows there were other screenwriting solutions around since the early 80s that either converted existing documents into correct format, or added screenwriting macros into other word processors.

And, believe it or not, in the pre-computer era there were no apps for typewriters that automatically formatted your script: you just had to know how to implement the format manually, using tab stops and manual centering*. So scriptwriters in the mid-70s and early 80s could very well have used the same techniques with standard WP programs on early PCs to write their scripts, well before the first scriptwriting programs were released.

  • How to center a line on a manual typewriter:
  1. Move the carriage to the center of the page
  2. Count the number of characters in the line, including spaces
  3. Divide that number by 2
  4. Backspace that many spaces
  5. Type the line
  6. Repeat as needed

I know that SF authors were using Word processors in the early 1980s. I got one in 1985, but I was hardly the first. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Jerry Pournelle was using one before 1980.

I’d figure it had to be 1980 or earlier for screenplays.

No need to directly count. Just go thru the characters and hit a backspace for each two. So if the line is “ABCEFG…” It’s “AB” click, “CD” click, etc.

And yeah, the unavailability of specialized macros for screenplays was hardly an issue for typewriters.

I’m pretty sure Chaos Manor was equipped with an ALTAIR computer with an early word processor software long before he started the column in BYTE in 1980.

I am in the middle of reading a book called “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing”, by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, which discusses a lot of the issues raised in this thread. Insofar as the history is recorded, the first movie script that was written on a word processor was Tron. The screenplay was written by a woman named Bonnie MacBird. The idea for the film based on video games came from someone named Steven Lisberger who hired MacBird. The two of them ended up at Xerox Parc where they interviewed Alan Kay. Kay was so taken by the project that he allowed MacBird to use a computer called Alto (not to be confused with the Altair) that was a true WYSIWYG word processor. One amusing thing mentioned in the book is that MacBird, having a choice of fonts, insisted on Courier because she felt that no movie studio would take a word processed script seriously, as she knew from years working at a development exec at Universal Studios. Kay was also taken by MacBird and they eventually married.

Publishers also would not look at a word-processed book proposal. The first genre that adopted word processing in a significant was Sci-Fi and Jerry Pournelle was probably the first to embrace computers, at least in a major way. But by the mid 80s, probably most Sci-Fi was word processed. But most mainstream writers did not use a computer until the 90s. One of the exceptions was John McPhee who started using a computer at Princeton in the mid 80s. He wrote about this in the New Yorker a year or so ago. He still uses an ancient editor (not a word processor; it is based on an old IBM mainframe editor called Xedit that was intended for programmers) that I use for my work, called Kedit.

Somehow it was felt that if it was done using a word processor, the writing was inauthentic, whatever that means. What it really is is better edited.

It sounds as though book publishers and movie studios require screenplays/typescripts/proposals to adhere to an industry-standard or house-standard format, including using a specified font. Why would they care, and how would they even know, if the printout came from a word processor or IBM Selectric?

ETA: Most professional writers love computer editors and word processors, for obvious reasons, and I do not doubt that they picked one up as soon as they could justify the expense or afford it at all.

I was using a NorthStar word processor as a writer in the consumer entertainment industry in 1981. I don’t know why it would take Hollywood ten years to catch up.

This is what I was looking for, the likely first high-profile movie written on a word processor (and TRON is kind of appropriate, as the first major use of computer animation), and the book that cites it as such!

Remember, the editors who received the first word processed manuscripts were old-school Lou Grant types who considered cut/copy-and-paste to be “cheating.” In retrospect, I’m kind of amazed I ever wrote anything longer than a page or two on a typewriter; fixing typos was pretty labor-intensive and I wound up photocopying the final results to hide the pervasive presence of White-Out.

Among comic book writers, Steve Gerber was one of the earliest adapters to writing scripts on a computer. He described the advantages of doing so in a 1980 interview. He was particularly taken with the “search and replace” feature in (I think) WordPerfect, in case he changed his mind about what a character’s name should be.

I also used Xerox Altos back in the day for writing papers (and doing diagrams for them).

Isaac Asimov is an interesting example. Openly described himself as having techphobia regarding word processors in 1982’s The Roving Mind. (Itself another essay collection.)

But in 1983 he was given a word processor as part of a deal to write about using it for Popular Computing. And he got over his fears. So a year too late for any script he might have wrote to have beaten Tron. But 7 years before Pretty Woman. And in tech terms, 7 years is forever.

When I started writing SF in 1980, word processors were fine for manuscripts.

Renember, you were submitting a hard copy. And, if you used a Daisywheel printer no one was going to notice a word processor was used. Daisywheels were essentially typewriters, anyway.

Dot matrix printers were problematic because they didn’t duplicate standard Courier typeface at first. Many early ones didn’t have full desceders, so letters like “p” were hard to read.

Yes, in the early days a typewriter could double as a printer.

I was *one of *the first, if not the first, student at my college to submit papers written on a computer. This was 1984, and the computer was a Kaypro 10 luggable that I rented for my senior essay. (I was familiar with it because my mother had bought its predecessor, the Kaypro II, for her home business.)

I printed my papers out on a console-mounted IBM Selectric typewriter I had bought second-hand, which had a serial port. So except for the complete lack of corrections, my papers looked exactly like ordinary typed papers. You could even change fonts by inserting a “pause” command in the document so that program would stop to allow you to change the type ball. This was useful because some of my papers used Greek characters.

This led one of my professors to tell me that my paper was one of the best-typed papers he had ever seen. I think was pointedly *not *saying best-written!

The Selectric console was pretty cool, but a pain in the butt to move around, so shortly after college I bought a Brother electronic typewriterthat used daisy wheels. Much lighter, and it also served as a serial printer. As a typewriter, it had an auto-correction feature Selectrics didn’t. If you caught a typo before hitting the Return key, you could back up to the mistake, and hit the Correct button, and it would lift up the incorrect character. Unlike with the correcting Selectrics, where you had to type the wrong letter yourself, the Brother remembered it for you. What high tech!