When people moan that Hollywood is run by sheep and that all films are basically the same, they don’t know the half of it.
Mariner Software, the company behind Contour, believes that behind hugely successful movies as diverse as Star Wars, American Beauty, Die Hard and Hairspray is a join-the-dots system that starts with four simple questions, then carries the central character through four distinct archetypes, three acts and 44 (no more, no fewer) plot points, until you’re in a position to pose the central question which, when answered, signifies the end of the story.
Contour is designed to help you follow this process, taking a raw idea and turning it into a working structure that you can use as the basis for an actual screenplay.
It’s important to understand that Contour isn’t screenwriting software (Mariner has the $139.95 Montage for that). Instead it provides a framework within which you can work out your characters and plot development until you know whether or not you have a story to tell.
The software is split into three windows with a timeline along the top. Screenplays are listed on the left, information about characters and plot development goes into the middle, and on the right Contour displays hints and tips to help you flesh out your story idea.
You start by answering the four questions: Who is the main character? What are they trying to accomplish? Who is trying to stop them? And what happens if they fail?
As you start to fill in the various fields, Contour displays help and examples in the right-hand panel. For example: “TITANIC – Jack Dawson is trying to save Rose from a loveless relationship and get the two of them off the most luxurious (yet, sinking) steamship so they can have a life together”.
After that you develop your archetypes in the same way, defining why your main character is first an ‘orphan’ then a ‘wanderer’ then a ‘warrior’ and finally a ‘martyr’; before moving to on to describe the various plot points – in great detail – that reveal your character’s place in the world, how the story progresses and so on. At every point in the creation process, Contour offers examples and tips and there’s a neat ideas window where you can jot down scraps of dialogue, jokes, action ‘beats’ in the plot and so on.
If you appreciate a helping hand then you’re going to love Contour. And even if you don’t, the way it forces you to think about a story in a structured, pre-defined way means that it’s great for sketching out ideas quickly and seeing where they work and where they’re broken; the inclusion of a dozen or so example treatments including The Incredibles, Silence Of The Lambs, Wall-E and The Poseidon Adventure really helps you to get the hang of the structure and the way it works.
There are competing ‘systems’ for creating story lines of course, but Contour’s certainly the most detailed we’ve seen (and is the brainchild of a pro scriptwriter). Whether it’ll help you write the next Slumdog Millionaire is up to you, but as a way of organising a story quickly and coherently, this is a compelling and productive piece of software.
Company: Mariner Software
Contact: 00 1 612-529-3770