XML in Word. Or rather, not

Arrghhh! The bastards! Microsoft have effectively given up on Office 2003 using an open XML file format. So far as I can make out, extracting specific data from Word documents will still be a job limited to hideously-expensive VBA developers. Ugh. So bang goes that particular implementation stream for my mooted TV production environment, ShowFlow.

What I want to do is this: I want to have multiple authors working on a bunch of files on a server. Those files each represent a script for a specific programme item which may or may not end up in the final series. Each item script contains lists of props, costumes, technical requirements, and so on.

I also want metadata associated with the scripts for things like estimated running time, item type, and a couple of other things. Then I want to be able to view all the items as a bunch of tiles on a grid. I want to be able to slide those tiles around into columns, which – for the sake of argument – we’ll call ‘Programmes.’ I currently do this with 6×4 index cards on a pin board.

At any point, I want to be able to generate a ‘programme script’ – that is, take a specified column and have the system crash the item scripts together, extracting props lists and the like into neat tables at the start of the document. This sort of thing happens a whole heck of a lot during production, and it’s still done entirely by hand.

There’s some other clever stuff that could happen, but the above is the start of it. And it’s not a difficult workflow – outside of TV, similar things are going on all the time. Yet, to even think about implementing it, it looks like I’m going to have to write a bleedin’ XML editor, or something very similar. What?

It’s 2003. This sort of smart, data-manipulating collaborative working should not be hard. But no, we’re still doing things exactly as we did when I started in this game, working on typewriters. It’s insane.

And there’s a real kicker in the wings, too – I reckon I could implement the bulk of ShowFlow in FileMaker Pro, in about a week. Really. But that would be just as proprietary as using MS Office, so what’s the point? I still need to be able to read these scripts in five years’ time.

Damn, this frustrates me.

1 Comment on "XML in Word. Or rather, not"

  1. If you were to employ 10 chimpanzees, give them typewriters and leave them long enough… well, they say you’d get Shakespeare but if you ask me you just get notes saying “WE STRIKE – more nuts and ‘nanas”


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