Part Two – The Unending Question: Which Screenwriting Software to Use?

In an earlier post, we talked about outlining software you can (or not) use. As I mentioned, I stick with the old tried and true method of Microsoft Word, mainly because it’s easy to use, easy to edit, and no one is going to see it really except for you.

When it comes to writing your actual script, however, that’s a much different story. There’s a lot of alternatives out there, some free, some fairly pricey. And the software you use may or may not leave a lasting impression on a potential producer or reader of your script.

First of all, let’s start with what you should not use, and that’s Microsoft Word.  While it’s fine for outlining, you should not use it for writing your script.  Why?  Because if you somehow got someone to read it, you’ll never get a producer to utilize a Word version for a feature (you might get lucky on a short).  Producers, directors are going to want to work with the writer on the script, adding in their own notes, action lines, and dialogue, and they won’t be able to do it if you’re working strictly out of Word.  And the one thing you don’t want to do as a writer is to make the job more difficult for the producer and director.  If the paginations and the margins aren’t standard, it doesn’t put you in a good light.

Using a software program designed specifically for screenwriting is obviously your best option, both stylistically and professionally.  I have used Final Draft (I’m now at Version 10) for about seven years, and before that, Movie Magic Screenwriter (currently version 6).  I have still have both programs, but tend to write strictly in Final Draft (as does my writing partner Rick).

Final Draft is the gold standard for film producers and directors. It’s used by a great majority of the top screenwriters in Hollywood (and the rest of the US, for that matter).Final Draft image Overseas, the standards tend to more varied as to the acceptance of screenplays, so it’s market share is much less in the European market, for example, and so you see differing options (some of them free), like Celtx being used.

For some screenwriters, the cost is a non-starter.  For example, at The Writer’s Store,  Final Draft 11 (the most current version) is $169.99, OR, if you’re still a student, you can get it for $99.99.  My opinion is that you’re making an investment in your career is this is something you really want to do, and do it well.  On the other hand, if you’re without a job, or you’re making minimum wage, this is a significant amount of money to be putting up for something you may never make a dime off of.  You’ll need to weigh your choices and determine whether this works for your budget, and in another post we’ll look at free software you can use as well.

Final Draft is available on both the Mac and Windows platform, and if you’re like me, who has both a Windows desktop and a Mac laptop, the good news is that you can download the program on both with the purchase of just one license.  Final Draft 10 is compatible with Mac OS X 10.9 or later and Windows 7 or later.

What I like most about Final Draft is that I really don’t have to think much about the process.  Everything is pre-formatted to industry standards, and you’re given various templates to work off of (screenplay, TV three-camera comedy, TV drama, etc.).  You also have a beat board for knocking out your story and a timeline for how your beats are working in terms of minutes consumed.  If you work closely with another writer, you can actually work (in Final Draft 10 or 11) in the script at the same time with the other writer in Collaboration mode.  You might find that there’s a little bit of lag time depending on your network speed, which can be a little frustrating at times.

You also have a great Title Sheet page to create title pages, and it converts your script easily into PDF or, if you want to convert to another program like Movie Magic Screenwriter, you can export to an RTF file and then import in to the new program (not a perfect option, and you’ll have to do some cleanup, but it’s better than most alternatives).

If you want to get more information on all the features of Final Draft, you can go to this review to get a more in-depth look at what you can (and can’t) do with Final Draft.  The bottom line for me is that I feel like if I’m going to make it as a professional screenwriter, then I need to have a professional screenwriting program to assist me in that endeavor, and for me, Final Draft checks all the boxes.

We’ll look at other screenwriting programs in a later post, and coming soon, we should have our outline completed (finally!) and we’ll be ready to move into the writing stage.

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