What's the best screenwriting software?
February 18, 2005 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Do any of you have any advice for buying screenwriting software? I am looking for something fairly cheap, but want to hear about your experiences with the different software products available. Are there any that just suck? Are there any quality WORD add-on programs you've had success with?
posted by brheavy to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've only used Final Draft (Mac version) and like it very much.
posted by papercake at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2005

Another satisfied Final Draft user (PC, but soon to switch to Mac, woo-hoo!).
posted by scody at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2005

Final Draft.
posted by Jairus at 11:35 AM on February 18, 2005

Final Draft is good. I have it on Mac.

I also have Sophocles for PC which is kinda clunky looking but gets the job done and has some nice features. You can download a trial at Sophocles.net
posted by Navek Rednam at 12:00 PM on February 18, 2005

If you've already got Word, you can't get much cheaper than that. I've never tried any of the add-ons, but it's perhaps 10 minutes work to cobble up some macros and styles that'll get the basic formatting done (proper indent and margins for action blocks, character names and dialog). That's 95% of everything you could ever want.

I've got Final Draft too, but I prefer to write in Word - sometimes I just want to churn out a lot of text without fiddling with the formatting and go back and tidy it up later.

Final Draft does have the nice advantage of providing all sorts of useful reports.

I've also used Movie Magic Screenwriter (formerly ScriptThing) which had all the functionality of Final Draft but just felt rough around the edges. I was never comfortable with it.
posted by zanni at 12:15 PM on February 18, 2005

I bet if you google around, you can find free Word macros for screenplay formatting. I remember looking into it back when I lived in LA (ha! it was a city requirement that you were working on a script -- I had no choice), and there were plenty of offerings back then.
posted by mathowie at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2005

final draft. if you're a student contact them for educational pricing.

I've used the word templates and hated it. I want the interafce out of the way so I just can write.
posted by filmgeek at 12:54 PM on February 18, 2005

You really want to use Final Draft if you're serious about becoming a screenwriter. I've used Word macros, Sophocles, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and even a LaTeX macro at one time or another, and all have advantages and disadvantages. But Final Draft is the industry standard; if you ever have a need to submit something electronically or work with another screenwriter, you'll probably need to be using Final Draft. Learning it now will save having to convert your documents and work habits later.
posted by Acetylene at 12:59 PM on February 18, 2005

I use Scriptware- I love it, and it's less expensive than FD, and less complicated with the stringent registration keys- and it will convert to Final Draft format if you need to e-mail a script. However, the conversion doesn't look fantastic- just passable- but I so rarely have to do that, that I don't worry about it.
posted by headspace at 1:13 PM on February 18, 2005

I prefer Movie Magic Screenwriter (on OSX). I like its features better than Final Draft's.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 1:27 PM on February 18, 2005

I've only used RoughDraft, which is donationware. It works pretty well. Eventually, I'll try Final Draft.
posted by jeffmshaw at 1:31 PM on February 18, 2005

When I took a screenwriting class some time ago, I searched high and low for a free screenwriting program. Everything I found was much worse than the Final Draft demo.

(I did found a free Word macro package, but didn't have Word.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:40 PM on February 18, 2005

I have a master's degree in screenwriting and I have done work as a creative consultant in L.A.

You must use Final Draft. I'm sorry to say this, because the company has a stranglehold on the market, but it's the truth. I went through my own phase of creating Word macros, and I'm pretty good with macros. You can get partway there, but that isn't good enough. People who work in the entertainment industry pick up a script and they expect it to look exactly as if it was written with Final Draft. As mentioned above, people who receive your scripts via email will expect them in Final Draft format. If they aren't, the recipients will think that you don't know what you're doing. And friends, collaborators, and employers will email you scripts asking for changes, and those scripts will be in Final Draft format.

Final Draft, Final Draft, Final Draft. You have no choice.
posted by bingo at 6:27 PM on February 18, 2005

Ummmm...Final Draft. It's the Word of screenwriting. No choice unfortunately.
posted by rooftop secrets at 11:23 PM on February 18, 2005

I'm going to have to offer a partial dissent. I got a Masters' degree in screenwriting, worked as a TV writer for several years, and just made my first feature film screenplay sale, and I've never used anything other than Word templates.

Admittedly, the sale was in Europe, and the TV show was a comedy/variety show and therefore didn't have scripts in the conventional sense. On the other hand, I've shown my feature film scripts around a lot of LA companies, and have never been criticized on formatting grounds.

So why is my dissent a partial one? Because...

1. It's entirely possible that my scripts, by being subtly different from Final Draft scripts, have been the victims of some sort of subconscious bias, which has made it harder to sell them in Hollywood (although, as much as I would like to believe this is the case, I think the fact that they haven't sold actually has had more to do with their content...)

2. Bingo is right that Final Draft, in its role as the industry standard, is the preferred format for e-mailing scripts.

3. As a specialized screenwriting program, Final Draft is better integrated with movie scheduling and production software than a word template could be.

For reasons 2 and 3, I will probably be using some of the proceeds of my screenplay sale to buy Final Draft for myself. But if you are writing your first script (or even your second or your third), it's probably not worth your while to buy Final Draft; you'd be better off just using a formatting template in your usual word processor, and focusing on becoming a good writer. As with any other difficult and potentially expensive endeavor, make sure you are really serious about screenwriting before sinking tons of money into it. After all, you wouldn't buy the most expensive skis on the market before you've hit the slopes.

Presumably brheavy knows all this, since his question specifically asked for a cheap option, not an industry standard one.

You can find some templates at the BBC's website,as well as here, and here. (I can only vouch for the BBC one--it's very good, although it takes some doing to work on a Mac, and the formatting seems a little different than US standards. I've never used the other ones.)

You will probably have to customize any of those templates but they will serve as starting points. If anybody is interested, I've uploaded the Word template I use, which I've customized over the years and has served me very well. (Self link, obviously.)
posted by yankeefog at 6:12 AM on February 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just to follow up... I just checked a board for working screenwriters where a similar discussion took place recently , and found that there was much less of a consensus for Final Draft than I had expected. Movie Magic Screenwriter was also a popular choice, as was the no-longer-updated Scriptware. Some people echoed Bingo's point that using anything other than Final Draft could make things a little trickier when sending scripts back and forth--but the consensus seemed to be that, as long as your program could convert to PDF, you were fine.
posted by yankeefog at 9:38 AM on February 19, 2005

Why would you want to convert to PDF?
posted by bingo at 10:05 AM on February 19, 2005

To send your script to agencies, producers, etc.
posted by yankeefog at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2005

I've never heard of anyone doing that with a PDF. What, so they can't modify it? All they need is Acrobat Writer (or whatever that version of Acrobat is currently called). And it's not like they couldn't just scan it or print it out and put their own name on the cover if they wanted to.
posted by bingo at 11:26 AM on February 19, 2005

Sorry, I don't think I expressed myself very clearly. This is what I get for posting in a rush! Let me try again...

Bingo, you mentioned that one problem with not having Final Draft is that when people ask you to e-mail a script, they will expect it to be in Final Draft format. Over on the aforementioned board for scriptwriters, a couple of folks who did not have Final Draft reported that they just e-mailed their scripts in PDF format, and it never created any problems.

And, yup, some of them mentioned that difficulty of modifying PDFs was an advantage--along the lines of, "If I'm going to get rewritten, it's going to happen whether or not I give them a Final Draft file--but why should I make it any easier to rewrite me than I have to?"
posted by yankeefog at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2005

Okay. Just to be clear, I understand, but I think that those people are kidding themselves.
posted by bingo at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2005

These are working screenwriters. They write scripts; they sell them to producers; the producers (sometimes) make them into movies. You and I should kid ourselves so effectively!

I've held off on reposting their comments here because they were made in a private forum, but I've mentioned that this discussion has been going on in AskMe, and gotten permission from a few of the forum members to post their thoughts here. So...

Here's Marianne Wibberly (National Treasure, The Sixth Day):
You must use Final Draft?

So not true.

Movie Magic Screenwriter files can be EASILY converted to Final Draft (and vice versa) if a production company wants it.

And both Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft can make Movie Magic Scheduler files which is the program most line people use to make breakdowns, schedules, and budgets.

We have made production companies switch to Movie Magic Screenwriter, and some companies have made us convert files to Final Draft.

The bottom line is: use whatever program you're most comfortable writing with.

Having used both extensively, I can say that Movie Magic Screenwriter has less bugs and far more flexibility.

But that's just me.

Here's David Stephens
I have both Scriptware and Final Draft. I use Scriptware. Final Draft doesn't work worth a shit and even when it does it sucks. I tried to use it several times because other people wanted me to. I quit and went back to Scriptware. I would never, ever, send a file from a scriptwriting program to any producer, agent, studio, or any other scumbag who intends to hand it over to someone else to rewrite. Let them start from scratch with whatever program they want.
David Hoag says:
I don't even use scriptwriting software -- no Final Draft, no Draft Final, no MovieMagic, no MagicMovie, nada. I write my first drafts on a yellow legal pad, and then type them in my pre-Windows, circa 1987 WordPerfect 4.2 word processing software.

... Ron Bass handwrites his first drafts in pencil on lined paper and then has a secretary type them in Word.

...screenwriter Larry Cohen dictates his first drafts into a hand-held tape recorder, then gives them to a secretary to type in Word.

...Joe Eszterhas writes everything on an old manual Underwood.
Of all the people who participated in the discussion, 5 said that they personally used Final Draft; 4 said they used Movie Magic Screenwriter; 2 said they used Scriptware; and (as quoted above) one person uses "pre-Windows, circa 1987 WordPerfect 4.2." Even among the people who personally used final draft, none of them agreed with the notion that you must use Final Draft; everybody saw it as a matter of personal preference.

Elsewhere on the same board, there was a poll about how people sent files to their agents, and e-mailing a Final Draft file came in second. First place was e-mailing a PDF file.

In short: I was wrong when I said that Final Draft is the best choice for integrating into production software, and I was wrong when I said that Final Draft was the preferred format for e-mailing scripts. I was right when I said that Final Draft was not a requirement for writing screenplays, and I was especially right when I said that, for a beginner looking for a cheap option, the best thing is just to get a template for whatever word processor you already own.

If you're a WGA member (EG, if you've ever sold a screenplay to a major studio or been a staff writer for a network TV show) you can join WriterAction and confirm that I am not making these quotes up. (As a side note, WriterAction is a great resource, and I highly recommend it to any MeFites who are in the WGA.)
posted by yankeefog at 12:32 AM on February 23, 2005

One more thing: John August (screenwriter of Go and Big Fish) has just posted in his blog that, although he uses Final Draft, he is keeping his eye on a promising new open-source screenwriting program called celtx.

I just downloaded it and played around with it a little bit. The fact that it's still in beta shows up in such symptoms as an inability to print--apparently, you have to save your script as a PDF, and then print from there. But writing and formatting with it is a breeze, and it has some fantastic built-in production breakdown features. I'm seriously considering switching over to it instead of buying a commercial program. It is well worth considering if you want a good cheap (or, actually, free) option.
posted by yankeefog at 3:22 AM on February 23, 2005

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