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Adobe Announces Story Scriptwriting Collaboration Tool
Adobe Story, which runs on the web or via a synchronized AIR application, allows multiple users to collaborate on script creation, making Creative Suite a full-fledged production software package.
Thurs., Sept. 10, by Paul Schmutzler and Tim Siglin
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Adobe is developing a new application for their CreativeSuite product line called Story.  Ascriptwriting collaboration tool, which runs on the web or via a synchronizedAdobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) application, Story allows multiple users to sharein the viewing, creation and editing of scripts, characters, and links. 

More interestingly, because Adobe stores the metadata foreach character and portion of the script, the product has the potential toeliminate one of the bottlenecks of metadata in the production process: theneed to rekey information, gathered in pre-production, into the production andpost-production workflow.

We were given access to the pre-release version, and wereable to try out the features touted by Adobe.

Figure 1
Adobe Story home screen

Adobe has made security a clear priority in developingStory.  Besides a user name andpassword required to login and work on the web version of the application,collaborators must also have an invitation from to work together on specificprojects. 

When you invite a person to collaborate with you, thesoftware automatically searches its database of users first to make sure thatthe email address you entered is valid in their system.  If it isn’t, it will display a messagedenying your request to share the project.  This may be a feature relegated to the pre-release versionof the software, but it emphasizes Adobe’s desire to segment and secure thecontent of scripts and metadata it holds in its repository.

According to Adobe’s documentation there are four differentroles that you can assign to someone you wish to share your project with:
• Co-authors can add, modify, or deletecontent from the script. However, they cannot delete the script itself. Co-authorscan also, like reviewers, comment on the script.
• Reviewers can add comments to thescript but cannot edit it.
• Viewers have read-only permissions tothe script. They can read the script but cannot modify content or add commentsto it.
• Taggers can add extra information to thescript. This information could include location details, schedule,instructions, and so on.

In our test, Paul created a project complete with one shortscript and bios of the two characters. Once Tim had access, he was able to add comments akin to the waycomments are made on Acrobat PDFs.

Figure 2
Co-author comments on character bio

This screenshot taken from Tim’s machine shows Paul's originalbio of H.R. Puff n Stuff with comments from both of us.  One problem we noticed was that anyonethat has privileges to a given project can edit another person’s commentswithout any trace.  In the secondcomment down, Tim added the sentence after the hyphen to my comment, butthere’s nothing to indicate that on the screen.  We’d like to see additional security that only allows theoriginal commenter to edit his or her comments, or at least some sort of trackingof individual users’ modifications to others’ comments.

Color-coding is included for each character given a bio.  Story only allows for six colors, sofor now you’ll have to stick to writing scripts with no more than six maincharacters in them.  Sorry, soapopera or epic screenwriters; you’ll have to wait until Adobe enhances thisfeature to keep track of your casts of thousands.  It would be nice to see the color-coding show up in thescript for either the character’s name or name and dialogue.

The script editing is pretty standard as far asscreenwriting software goes,  andit can ingest FinalDraft as well as Word documents that have been created in ascript format; one nice feature, though, is a handy tool called Smart Type thatautomatically suggest a variety of commonly used words and descriptions inorder to speed up the process of writing your script.  I found this very helpful and quickly got used to the"interruptions" that really freed me up to write meaningful dialogue instead ofconsistent script terms. Spell check would be a helpful addition to thescreenwriting portion.

Figure 3
Smart Type suggests commonly used words and descriptions as you type

The one preference available in Story’s online version ishow often the system auto-saves a project.  The lowest increment is every 60 seconds.  In our tests, we couldn’t verify ifthis feature actually worked because there was no visual indication that theproject was auto-saved.  Thiscaused some confusion, since only one user at a time can edit a given script orbio; we'd hoped that the auto-save every few seconds would update all otherusers’ screens to let them know when one writer had stopped writing.

This did not happen, however; whenever Paul would make changesto a document, Tim would only see that Paul was editing and that the document waslocked while he made changes, even if Paul stopped typing for several minutes.  If Paul wanted Tim to be able to see whathe had done, he would have to manually save the document in order to refresh hisscreen.  We noticed other issueswhere the locking seemed finicky. Sometimes in order to unlock a document, Paul would have to click onanother screen so that Tim could see my changes and begin editing.

For those of you on a thin connection, Story is pretty lighton bandwidth.  Tim even worked fromhis end on a dial-up connection from a remote location. Although the initialloading took a while, once he was in, everything was almost as speedy as if theprogram were running directly from my local machine. 

What about AIR? For those working remotely with no internetconnection, there is a downloadable Story app that can work with Adobe Air onyour computer.  We weren’t able totest this offline version, but supposedly it works mostly the same as theonline version. 

There are three documented limitations for the offline version:
• Shared scripts are not visible.
• Scripts cannot be shared with other users.
• Some of the import and export features might notwork as intended

Story will certainly fill a gap in Adobe’s Creative Suite,making it a full-fledged production software package.  As other tools in the Creative Suite package are updated, wehope to see Adobe pushing the metadata it gathers during this scriptwritingprocess out into its production and post-production tools. If Adobe succeeds indoing so, the upside to those of us in the streaming community is that themetadata will carry along with the original shots, even when they are part of alarger finished production. In other words, there might even be the potentialto see auto-population of sizable metadata records and inherent syndicationtracking. 

Adobe is announcing the public beta of Story at the IBC showin Amsterdam on September 10. IBC runs through September 10-15, 2009 at the RAIConvention Centre.