[Kept updated as much as possible]
All About Software
One question new writers always ask in the B2W Facebook group is whether they should buy screenwriting software. So hello to Michelle who asks:
“I’ve heard mixed advice from everyone on the screenwriting software issue… Some advise getting it, others say there’s no need for expensive software, at least not until you’re in the thick of it. What’s your take?”
Biiiig question! Ready? Let’s go …
There’s lots of software choices now
Some people like screenwriting software; others see it as an excuse for a company to make shedloads of cash.
That disclaimer aside however, I think you’re bonkers if you don’t use *some sort* of screenwriting software. For one thing, it looks better on the page than manually formatted MS Word. It also takes a hell of a lot less time to hit “return” than it does to go back and painstakingly move the text about the page into the right place.
What’s more, a script in MS Word is often that bit longer than your automatically-formatted screenplay, so your page count may go up and give you essentially a false reading of how long it really is.
So I’m a fan of screenwriting software, defo. But which one?
Here’s an overview of those software packages that have crossed the B2W desktop in the past decade and a half, both paid-for and free.
Click here for 5 Screenwriting Software for under $50 from No Film School.
1) Final Draft
I’ve been a Final Draft user now for aeons and updated to FD11 in 2019. It’s my favourite version yet, for sure. What’s more, everyone I know and work with regularly uses Final Draft. I don’t have to worry about converting files, I can just attach and “send”, no faffing about. Since I am allergic to faffing and want to do everything RIGHT NOW OR BUST, this floats my boat.
Lots of Bang2writers are big fans of this one. I have test driven it and it wasn’t for me. But it remains the most widely used screenwriting software after Final Draft with my Bang2writers. Check it out, plus pricing, HERE.
3) FADE IN Pro
This turned up in 2014 to VERY enthusiastic endorsements from the Bang2writers. I have not test-driven this one, but Bangers say its functionality is ace, the programmer is approachable (apparently someone asked for a radio template to be added and it was, almost immediately). It’s also affordable at $49.95. It counts Hollywood’s Rian Johnson (Knives Out, Star Wars The Last Jedi, Looper) amongst its fans. Check it out HERE.
4) Writer Duet
This one can be used free online, or upgraded to $79 per year, or $159 for a lifetime. There’s also a Screencraft version that comes with a variety of extras for $99/$199. Now I have not test driven but but I really do rate Screencraft and have talked to the guys there about it and believe they offer a good product. Check out the details, HERE.
This one comes in at $39.99, plus you can try it for free. I found this via Google; I’ve not test driven it. No Bang2writers have recommended it, but none have said it’s terrible either. If you use it and want to share your thoughts in the comments of this post, please do. Check it out HERE.
6) John August’s Highland 2.5
Bang2writer Aydrea reviewed Highland 2.5 last year at his launch party. As I’m sure you know, John is a Hollywood screenwriter himself, so he knows what we need to get writing done! Highland 2.5 software sounds great and is actually free. I would wager that if you’re going to use a free app, this one is the one to go for. The downside it is only available for Macs currently. More on freeware, next.
Here are some other free screenwriting softwares that have turned up, since writing the post
- Script Buddy
- Trelby. You can read an in-depth review on this blog of this software, HERE.
- Adobe Story
If you use any of the above (or any other type of software), let me know what you think of them and I’ll add your thoughts to this post. If you would like to write a review, CONTACT ME asap.
NB. Since writing this post back in 2009, it would appear one of the key advantages of paid-for software is it is not suddenly abandoned by its developer! Something to think on, perhaps?
- BBC’s Script Smart. The second fave amongst them is the BBC’s Script Smart. I downloaded it once to try it and didn’t understand it. Nothing appeared to work – at least in the way I wanted it to and/or expected it to. Perhaps I got a dodgy download, ‘cos I appear to be the only person in the universe this has affected. Whatever the case, I didn’t like it and haven’t been back. [EDIT: No longer supported].
- Sophocles. There was a brief interest in Sophocles amongst my Bang2writers and I took a look too: it seemed interesting, but by then I had already bought software. [EDIT: no longer supported].
- Scripped. Another one Bang2writers seem to like is Scripped, principally for its online collaboration feature (which CeltX also has). Whilst I applaud the idea, I’m simply not interested in online collaboration in this way. I gave the actual software a try and it seemed fine – but there appeared to be loads of stuff that I didn’t need/wasn’t interested in and though I still technically have an account, I haven’t opened it in yonks. [EDIT: GONE ALTOGETHER!! There was an EPIC data loss and users’ scripts got deleted, detailed HERE. Listen to John August’s podcast with Scripped about it HERE. Something else to think on perhaps, re: freeware].
Why I like Final Draft
(EDIT for 2020). I updated to Final Draft 11 in 2020. As you know, I NEVER endorse products I haven’t used myself. As both a script editor and a writer, I use Final Draft and have done since I started, waaaay back. I like the general interface, plus its versatility on various platforms for writing and editing on the go.
Also, rightly or wrongly, it is the standard in the industry – agents and producers have always assumed I use FD, which is handy because I do! I like FD11 the best of all its versions and find it to be its most stable.
I also find Final Draft useful because of its report function, as well as its colour-coding and ‘beat board’. As someone who advocates writers understand as much as possible about plotting and structure, I find these Final Draft features absolutely essential. They have personally saved me countless hours. Working with other writers, I have found the same.
So that’s why I recommend Final Draft to Bang2writers. But there’s loads of choices here in this post, to suit every budget and concern.
Over on Twitter (follow me to join in!), my mighty tweeps are making the following recommendations, including some for novel writers.
- Apparently Scrivener is ace. I’ve never used this, so can’t say one way or another, but it’s a paid-for software costing $39.95 and of course you can have a trial first to find out if you like it. Downside: it’s only available to Mac users at present. [UPDATE: Now available for Windows as well].
- Others are recommending Writers Cafe as well as Allen here, principally for its “storylines” function. I’ve heard mixed tales about this software and I took a look a while back and it didn’t appeal to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a go, especially if you find outlining a real pain.
- Meanwhile, over at Facebook, there is MUCH love for both Final Draft and CeltX too, with just a couple recommending Movie Magic – I wonder why it hasn’t caught on over here? Our American cousins seem to use it more.
- Join Bang2writers on Facebook to join in the conversation and find out what the B2Wers recommend RIGHT NOW for software.
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Final Draft is good. I use something called Montage on my Mac and it's good to and much cheaper 🙂 I got by for the first fifteen years (writing plays mostly) using Word and setting up keyboard macros which I have to say was just fine too (I think thats essentially what the BBC Word thingie does). In the end special writing software is just FASTER and less hassle.
There is also the important step of investing money in your career. As a director there are all manner of toys to buy (like cameras!) but the screenwriter is stuck with conferences, books and software. Buying First Draft or whatever feels like you are making a commitment to your career – and this may be the most important aspect of buying screenwriting software 🙂
The key thing for me is that I only use these programs to actually write as their outlining and notes tools I find a bit restrictive. The only thing I have found which is useful here is a program called 'Wrtiers Cafe' most of which is useless but it has a part called 'Storylines' which is just brilliant for me – there's a big screenshot of it in action on this page: http://www.agoodstorywelltold.com/click/124/0 And it's made by one guy who lives in the UK who is very helpful. So that's my tip for the day 🙂
My main complaint at the moment is… why is it such and unholy bastard to get ANY of these programs to properly read the file formats of any of the others? Like the writing tools of FD, but for small unit production (and radio and comic formats) Celtx appeals. Moving a working script from one to the other? Fecking nightmare.
Even MS Office realised this a decade ago; file imports from your rival's applications INCREASE THE DESIRABILITY OF YOUR APPLICATIONS.
I tried to use Final Draft whilst at uni at it seriously did my head in. The chances are it probably wouldn't now but as everyone knows it's a damn sight expensive. Now if I'm writing screenplays I use Pages on my Mac as it has a template already set up for screenplays and even has a storyboard template too. You can set up tab keys to automatically get it to recognise what you're writing and works just fine for me.
My bosses rave about Scrivener and find that it works perfectly for them. They do have Final Draft banging around the office but as you've mentioned what pleases one person irritates another.
I wholeheartedly agree with Allen about making that decision to pay money for something like this, it's a self assurance of "this is what I want to do". I felt the same way about having 'screenwriter and playwright' alongside my name on a business card. It was a big decision but an important one nonetheless, however frivolous it may seem at the time.
Unfortunately the level of funding (none) means that Script Smart hasn't been in development for some years now, so it doesn't work on newer operating systems or versions of Word.
By "newer" I mean anything from Vista and OSX onwards, and Word 2007/2008. Which I suspect is your problem.
Sophocles also, I believe, isn't supported by the author any longer.
Final Draft 8 (though I often end up converting the stuff and sending it out in FD7 or PDF).
It's more stable than FD7, and has some nifty new scene analysis stuff.
More importantly, it's what the client wants. In my limited career writing stuff for the Beeb, I have had no choice but to use Final Draft for Casualty, Holby City and EastEnders. It's what they use, so it's what I used. Doctors uses Word for some reason.
You're not the only one to have struggled with Script Smart. I tried it a couple of years ago, and found it a right pain in the bum. Switching to Celtx was such a relief.
I'm trying to get celtx to provide templates for standard BBC radio formats. They're interested, but it's not a priority.
A polite email to them, if you're a celtx user, might help to establish demand…
I like Movie Magic – still getting used to it but it seems relatively user-friendly, and has lots of useful templates. I never send out MM files though – I just convert to a pdf, and so far noone's had a problem with those. Have tried Final Draft, but feel like I'd need a while to get used to it – maybe in the future!
I’m a Movie Magic user also and I highly recommend it. It’s simple to use and the conversion to a pdf file is easy and quick.
Paul – yes, it defo seems to be the industry choice, though as you say there is the odd show here and there that still uses Word and I always find it surprising. Hollyoaks has its own Word-style format.
Piers – I heard too Sophocles was "gone", though it still seems to be there, available to download… But presumably they mean it's just never ever going to have an update? Getting CeltX to help out Script Smart seems a good idea, will pass that info on to other people asking for sure.
Katie – I have just looked on my Mac and I have Pages! I never knew it could double as screenwriting software (in fact I didn't even know I had it). I have never opened it before today, will give it a try.
MJ – the MM file I got turned into some sort of werid txt file: perhaps this was before the PDF function existed or perhaps the chap in question simply got it wrong. I could read it *just about* but needless to say it was very distracting!
I find Final Draft a trifle unwieldy. Celtx's stripped down functionality is much more to my taste, even with the online PDF restriction.
I think it really depends on how your mind works. I have used Script Smart for years, and still do for Radio. It gets a bit quirky at times but working with a range of software applications for a few decades now means I can sort problems out for myself.
I treated myself to Final Draft this year after saving Xmas and birthday money. I'd got to the point where I felt limited with word templates, especially with diagnosing and editing a feature script. I could have probably gone on for quite a while but irritation won.
Dave and I both had a go at quite a few of them (free and expensive). We prefer to choose for ourselves rather than going with what everyone else is using.
None were perfect so in the end it was a case of which did we find least irritating.
What you can live with will be a personal preference so I think spending the time trying them out is worth the effort. The expensive ones do have free trial copies you can download.
I'm probably one of the people who was saying that Scrivener was ace on Twitter.
Let me restate – it's ace. As you say, shame it's Mac-only, but it's good enough for me to abandon the PC for it. 🙂
It's not designed specifically for screenwriting — it started out for fiction — but has had screenwriting support added in later versions.
It supports hotkeys to switch into different typing 'modes' (i.e. character, scene header, dialogue etc.) and is fairly intelligent about what mode you want to be in at any given point. I've used Final Draft a bit too (years ago, though), and the support seemed similar.
A lot of Scrivener is about structuring – it lets you juggle about story cards, take notes, all that sort of thing, and then expand those notes into full scenes.
It also exports and imports to Final Draft 8, which is nice.
(And no, I don't work for them. 🙂 Scrivener is a one-man outfit, and that man isn't me…)
wow! thanks for another great blog post!
Customized application development
I am so happy whenever I open Final Draft that I've never considered any other programme (fortunately go it cheaply when a student). I hear someone mention Final Draft, or I read the words "Final Draft" and my whole body just goes AAAAH (replaces meditation really). I love its simplicity. It's so much more straightforward than Word which I use a lot for other stuff.
Sophocles – because it can do Cue and Dialogue on the same line, so play and radio formats are easy. (For BBC radio sketches with FX and Grams, it still easier to just use Word.)
Also, easy choice of what you want to print – so can leave out transitions on a spec script.
Only problem is nobody else uses it, but the export to pdf is fine.
If you are looking to submit to the BBC and have Windows, Practical Scriptwriter is certainly worth a look.
Very easy to use and is still being actively developed. I just downloaded version 2 which is a completely new program, at no extra charge.
Let me also add my support for Scrivener, which is now available for Windows too. It’s great for plotting and structuring and also exports and imports FDR and FDX files.
Thanks Stephen, I’ve updated the post with that info too. Have heard only good things about Scrivener, so will definitely give it a try.
I agree, Lucy. I reviewed the principal available software a few years ago and Final Draft definitely came up on top for me. I’ve always used it since. However, I’m now playing with Scrivener and it’s great for organising. I’ve not yet used it to write a script but it seems to do the job. But it doesn’t do what FD does so nicely, and suggest locations, speakers, etc just by typing the first letter. Maybe I’m lazy, but I do like that. It helps me stay in the flow.
On the other hand, if you don’t want the hassle, you can format the paragraph styles for free in Word, etc. You can even set them up so that the format for a character name automatically moves on to the paragraphy style for dialogue, etc.
If anyone wants a pre-set template to do this, I’ve uploaded one to Euroscript – http://www.euroscript.co.uk/script-formats-and-free-downloads.html
Updated comment@ I started out using Script Smart. I was able to go into it and sort some of the bugs myself. But in the end I created my own Word Templates for Radio and Theater.
Eventually I splashed out on FD and have used it for quite a few years now. Did test the others but FD was more intuitive for me. Others may have brains that work differently and prefer others. Personally I really didn’t like Celtx. I use FD for TV and Film.
Recently become a Scrivener convert and love it. Great for working on ideas, storylining, character studies, research. I do most of my work now in Scrivener and only shift to FD or Word for the actual write.
I’ve fallen for Scrivener, but not yet used the script format facility. Have you? It seems pretty good for laying out screenplays, but does it work for a full length script?
I used Final Draft for a while and really liked it (this must have been 5 or 6, if there were such things, because it was long, long ago in a galaxy quite far away…) and I have used CeltX quite happily too. My favourite was a short lived Word MOd called “Magic Ant”. Ludicrous as it sounds, it was brilliant. It filled out character names and did all the formatting AND it had an “Insert joke” button, where you pressed it and it stuck in a joke. Not a good joke, or particularly appropriate to the context, but still… I like to think the inventor was anticipating the phone app credo of “You don’t need this, but we’re the only ones who do it.”
By the way, I have yet to garner any success from my screenplays, but that’s primarily due to my laziness in not taking Lucy’s excellent advice.
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for Final Draft so I’ve never had to pay for it. I always recommend Celtx to people though if they are just dipping their toe into screenwriting and don’t want to spend a lot of money and decide it’s not for them.
After using FD for years I got tired of the developers’ attitude. The latest release doesn’t feel like they had working screenwriters beta-testing it.
Have done a 180 for simplicity with Fountain markdown. Can use any plain-text editor then bring it into Highland (by screenwriter John August), for example, or Slugline. I’m finding the zen simplicity of Fountain to be refreshing.
Another one to look at is Logline, new but with considerable potential, especially regarding structure: logline app.com
Here’s a free template for Apple Pages: http://story-architect.com/?p=3397
This article has many of the top screenwriting software packages MISSING.
There is no reason to use any other free software, as WriterDuet is superior in everything the other packages do, for free.
Highland and Slugline are also excellent, Mac only and are around $30.
Paid: WriterDuet has a paid version for just under $70
As noted, Fade In Pro is excellent. At $50, and doesn’t crash like Final Draft with excellent developer support, that’s my personal choice.
The days where people say you either have to use Final Draft or Movie Magic because they are the industry standard are long over. They are basically the horse drawn carriage riders complaining that everyone is driving cars these days.
Every time I use Final Draft, it crashes. I had a writing partner who insisted on FD. After FD crashed, and I lost 30 pages, I never used it again.
When I went to UCLA, we all used Movie Magic. I’ve been using it ever since, without regret. It has an excellent notes feature that makes life so much easier.
Final Draft has always been the best but it is a bit buggy sometimes I find – and the design is a bit MacOS9. Fade In Pro is pretty exciting as it seems cleaner and more modern somehow (only used it for an hour) and seems to have some added functionality (like having a dim-able background for instance) that I imagine come from the creator being a writer. I think rather than the upgrade to FD10 from 9 (when it comes out) I MIGHT move over then. – might not though as FD is definitely industry standard.
Has anyone tried amazon storyteller? looks like a great step in between script and final piece. i haven’t tried it myself yet but wondered if there is any interest out there?
*I meant Amazon Storywriter
Decades ago I started trying several all kinds of inexpensive word processors thinking I could tweek them into submission, but then I said, for all the money I’ve spent I could have already paid for DOS ScriptThing. I was totally satisfied with the purchase which was always solid. ScriptThing eventually became Movie Magic which still remains my all-time favorite! The only things I sort wish it had is Linux support. (Although it does run well in Wine – Mint 17, I have this fear that one day one of these Linux or MM updates might cause some serious problems). A mobile app would be a nice along with the ability to import/output FDX files, (which is supposed to happen in a 2016 update). My curiosity has lead me to other software over the last few years, I really liked Celtx, but it wasn’t WYSIWYG and now have discontinued support for their Desktop! (I don’t like the online version and refuse to pay for subscriptions). Fade In Pro is pretty darn good and stable with great tech support, plus it runs on all OS platforms and get regular updates! I’m using it to write a stage play and sitcom pilot now. I’ve heard too many unsatisfied customers/horror stories and about Final Draft! Sure Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 may look a little outdated, but it gets the job done!
As all three of your “rated” free softwares are no longer supported or are “GONE ALTOGETHER”, can we get you to do an overall edit and review 3 free softwares that are currently useful?
I mean, seriously. It’s a top hit on Google. You’re a provider of information to the masses. We could really use the info and you guys really know your stuff.
Actually it’s just me and time is unfortunately at a premium. There’s a katrillion links in this post, not to mention those to demo software, plus followed up where possible. There’s also links to free software the Bang2writers have suggested. Short of testdriving every free software there’s not much else I could provide and like I said, time is limited. Feel free to try them yourself and offer your thoughts though?
I have used Movie Magic Screenwriter (first used its predecessor, ScriptThing) since its inception, and am very satisfied. I particularly like the way that boxes for outline elements such as Act, Sequence, Scene, and Beats can be displayed in the script screen and/or in the NaviDoc panel, which is located beside the screen.
This allows me to plan out my story, so that I have a very clear visual ‘plan’ of what to do.
Working this way, you literally fill-in the blanks between these elements.
As someone said above, the Movie Magic interface may not look modern, but that is a small price to pay for a programme which is reliable, imports completely accurately 99% of the time, and is rock solid.
I did try Final Draft some years ago, and have had a look at most of the other screenwriting software out there, but Movie Magic Screenwriter seems to be head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest in terms of functionality and reliability.
I started using Amazon Storywriter and found it fantastic. It’s simple, easy and… FREE… what more can you ask for…
What more, if you decide to move to Final Draft, which is the only one I would concider, it has the format that you can use to upload whatever you wrote to Final Draft, so you do not lose anything…
for Slugline. FD export, remembers character names, great formatting, simple to use, supported, scene index. I’ve never needed to look elsewhere.