MEET THE DEVELOPER
A Man for All Screens
Hollywood scriptwriter John August moonlights as an app-maker. Tap to read.
Every Tuesday and Friday, in the cozy Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park, screenwriter John August summons a team of Hollywood artisans to the pool house behind his palm-shrouded 1920s Mediterranean-style spread and flips on a projector.
He’s not screening films. August saves his creative pursuits—a body of work that ranges from the indie cred of Go to the stylized fluff of Charlie’s Angels to the upcoming live-action retelling of Aladdin—for the rest of the week. Tuesdays and Fridays are for running his side hustle: an app company.
“All right,” he says, “let’s pull up the whiteboard.” And with that, an entire wall is flooded with the agenda for this meeting of Quote-Unquote Apps.
The room glows with a to-do list for Quote-Unquote’s three full-time employees—coder Nima Yousefi, designer Dustin Bocks, and assistant Megan McDonnell—who manage August’s constellation of screenwriter-centric apps and utilities, most of which he coaxed into existence to stimulate and streamline his own writing life.
“The writing and the app stuff go very hand in hand,” says August, who pursues quality while being his own best customer. “Most of what we build has been answers to problems I was facing.”
Tired of squinting and pinching to read screenplays on his phone, for instance, August devised what may be his most important application: Weekend Read, a free app that optimizes PDFs and other script-related formats for iOS devices. Those who upgrade to the premium version get access to a curated portfolio of screenplays every Friday.
Tired of squinting and pinching to read screenplays on his phone, August devised Weekend Read, a free app that optimizes PDFs and other script-related formats for iOS devices.
“Thoughts on a new theme?” August asks the group.
“I was looking for fish-out-of-water features,” McDonnell says, “but I surprisingly can’t find that many scripts online.”
“What if you did fish out of water,” Yousefi says, “but it was, like, literally scripts about fish?”
“Splash?” McDonnell says.
“A Fish Called Wanda!” Yousefi says.
“Should I explore pun themes?” McDonnell asks.
“Call it Fish Fry-day,” August says, reminding her to add Jaws to the list.
Raised in pre-internet Colorado, August describes himself as a lifelong tinkerer whose frenetic curiosity and appetite for trial and error left more than a few household appliances dismantled. “I’ve never been a person who carefully read the instruction manual or studied up on how to do something before I did it,” he says. “I just did it and figured it out along the way.”
After majoring in journalism at Drake University, he earned an MFA in film production at the University of Southern California, where he learned to treat technical proficiency as a tool, not a goal. “Someone could teach you how to use a machine, but more important was to learn the philosophy behind the machine—because the machine was always going to change.”
Someone could teach you how to use a machine, but more important was to learn the philosophy behind the machine—because the machine was always going to change.
Devoted to the demystification and democratization of insider knowledge, August has explored the craft of storytelling in more than 350 episodes of his podcast Scriptnotes (cohosted with Scary Movie and Hangover writer Craig Mazin). With his signature suite of drafting and editing tools named Highland—a Mac-based app recently reborn as Highland 2—he hopes to equip others with the kind of pragmatic software that has proven essential to his own efficiency.
He has also developed a file-combining app (Assembler), a customizable watermarking utility (Bronson Watermarker PDF), and even a font (Courier Prime) to enhance the traditional screenplay typeface.
“Oh, it’s a business, yeah,” says August, pausing to wrestle with his poodle-terrier rescue, Lambert, while the rest of the Quote-Unquote team hammers away on laptops. But unlike his other business, an industry known for treating the work of even successful screenwriters as a fungible commodity, running a tech startup affords a measure of control over the finished product.
“One of the things I like most about all the software stuff,” he says, “is I’m not asking anyone’s permission for anything.”