September 30, 2016 by tcawood
If you ask a bunch of screenwriters what software they use, you’ll get a cacophony of different views. Each one strident and strong. No matter the software, they’ll claim it’s the best. It’s industry standard, they say. You’d be mad not to use it. It’s the tool that makes writing… easy!
Needless to say, an article that examines the main contenders would be great. So here is my offering and personal experience – with opinions thrown in for good measure.
** Note – as I always do – it’s best to travel to the official websites of each: look at key features, current prices, file formats, supported Operating Systems and other details. Research is a very good thing. Especially where software is concerned.
First up, we have:
Price – $250
Demo – 30 Day Free trial available
Mac/PC – Both
Mobile/Device – Available for iPad and iPhone
Pro Advocates – Darren Aronofsky, J.J. Abrams, Robert Zemeckis
Final Draft considers itself the industry standard. In fact, it’s used by scores of professional screenwriters – but not all of them.
It’s feature rich to say the least. Anything FD doesn’t include probably isn’t needed.
It has over 100 script templates, integrates index cards well and even has a feature that reads the script out aloud – with different character voices!
FD’s also very customizable, with reports coming out of its ears. Plus, it imports and exports in a plethora of file types and formats.
One of the other good features – IMO – is the ability to save to Dropbox. That’s great if you use multiple devices, as it ensures you’re always working on the most up to date version of your masterpiece.
Yes, Final Draft does pretty much everything. It even has iPhone/iPad versions, currently on sale for $14.99. (Note: mobile versions sync scripts with Dropbox. Scripts can also be stored locally, emailed, printed etc.)
The only real downsides to Final Draft? Well, the price – though it’s often discounted – and the relatively slow development timetable for enhancements.
You could always just buy the iPad version and play with that if the price tag puts you off!
Price – $170 (current sale price)
Demo – 5 Day full demo available
Mac/PC – Both
Mobile/Device – Not currently
Pro Advocates – Paul Haggis, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Evan Katz
Another high cost option that purports to be the industry standard. MM has a bunch of pro-screenwriter endorsements and it’s apparently the preferred format of WGA West.
From a features perspective, Movie Magic has much of the same as FD: including Text to Speech, a ton of templates and online collaboration features. And – this software has extensive (and free) support and a couple of features not found in FD.
It does, however, feel a little old these days – an overhaul seems overdue. And the inclusion of other popular hardware devices would be nice.
Downsides: price and lack of a mobile app (though their website says that’s in consideration).
Price – Basic – Free
Standard – $9.99 per month
Plus – $19.99 per month
Mac/PC – Online application – yes to both.
Demo – Standard & Plus have 15 day free trials
Mobile/Device – Yes
Pro Advocates – Kirk Suttles – Head of Production at Lifechurch.tv
Celtx used to have a desktop version, but they’ve gone completely online of late (if you have the desktop version, it isn’t supported anymore). But if you just want a basic online screenwriting product, then the free edition is perfectly fine. Many people happily use Celtx for spec scripts.
The Standard version comes with more production type features, such as Shot Blocking, Scheduling, Budgeting, etc. The Plus version has even more features, including Live Chat support. They have a big focus on collaboration and team working as well – that’s not just a FD/MM thing!
Price – $50
Demo – Yes
Mobile/Device – Yes (including Android)
Pro Advocates – Craig Mazin
Though a newer entrant to the market, Fade In is feature rich for the price and has some unique advantages (like Android support, a Linux version, EPUB exports etc) that make it a definite contender. It also has Dropbox support, so you can switch between desktop versions and mobile devices easily.
Fade In also also seems to have a really responsive developer, Kent Tessman – who happens to be a screenwriter too*. Additional features are added quickly and frequently, something that Final Draft and Movie Magic have been criticized for (frequently) in the past.
*Check out Kent’s great script, Chrome Noir on the Black List Table Reads podcast. It’s well worth a listen!
Downsides: I think it has fewer features in total than FD or MM, but I’m not sure they’d be missed!
If you are new to screenwriting and want a solid desktop based program, that works on any OS and on Mobile devices too… then I think Fade In is worth the look.
Price – $59
Mac/PC – Mac only
Demo – Yes
Mobile/Device – Yes
Pro Advocates – Michael Brandman, New York Times Bestselling Author
This one is Mac only (including iPad/iPhone). I haven’t had chance to look at it, but to be thorough, I thought it fair to list it anyway.
Geared for novelists as well as screenwriters, this one is a word processor with built in screenwriting functionality. It has outlining functionality, as well. You can add images and things like that to a story, just to give it more color in your mind. You can also create ePub and Kindle books via this software.
In certain ways, Storyist seems to be more of a writer’s tool. But if you are a Mac fiction writer who dabbles in screenwriting as well, it might be what you’re looking for!
Price – Free version
$7.99 per month (or $99 Lifetime fee)
Mac/PC – Online application (so yes to both).
Demo – Has free version
Mobile/Device – Yes
Pro Advocates – Ed Solomon, Andy Nyman
I believe this is the newest in the collection. Like Celtx, the developers have chosen an online route. But they recently added a desktop version, providing good cross platform support. WriterDuet also incorporates cloud saving to ensure you are always using the most up to date version of your script.
One of the key features of the software is real time collaboration. You can work on scripts with a writing partner in real time – no back and forwards, or issues with version control.
One of the other good things is that the developer – Guy Goldstein – is very accessible and currently has an AMA going on Reddit (screenwriting). So he’s pretty active in general.
No, WriterDuet doesn’t have the production level features of some of its more established competitors. But to perfectly honest: if you’re an aspiring writer engaged primarily with spec scripts… do you need colored revision pages and page locking to get by?
Price – Free, yes completely
Mac/PC – Windows and Linux only
Demo – It’s free just try it out
Mobile/Device – No
Pro Advocates – ?
Trelby is free and opne source, it works just fine but is becoming more outdated as time goes by (it was last updated in 2012). With no mobile deveice support this may not fit everyone’s requirements… but it still has its advocates.
Website – http://www.trelby.org/
So here you go. Check out the websites yourself. Try the free versions and find out what you like!
Admittedly, this article isn’t an exclusive list, but it discusses the main tools in use. Apologies if I’ve missed your favourite, but feel free to post in the Comments box!
My personal view? That if you’re just starting out and have a limited/no budget, then WriterDuet is a good choice. If you are looking for something with a little more and you have the bucks to spend, then Fade In’s the option I recommend. Then: if you want whistles and bells, the kitchen sink and don’t mind paying a hefty price, then Final Draft’s in your sights (but why spend unnecessariy?).
In the interest of full disclosure… I currently use Fade In on PC and my iPad. But I’ve also written scripts with Final Draft, Celtx and WriterDuet. So I’m agnostic with my software!
Carry on reading for the next in the series and check out my new book for expanded and updated info – How to sell your screenplay