Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Screenwriting software

Lisa writes: I am deep into writing my first spec, and everything is going pretty well - but I am using Word and I seem to be wasting hours upon hours on something that seems fairly simple: the formatting. I am not sure how paid writers write their shows every week, but I am assuming they use something like the Final Draft software (which I cannot afford). Do all the pros use screenwriting software? How do you format your specs?

I understand your frustration! Formatting is tough and it takes a while to master. Make sure you are READING as many professional scripts as you can - both so that you have templates to look at and also so that the right "look" of a script starts to sink in. There are a few links to script sites on the right of this blog, and I know that Google searches yield many more. Just make sure you're looking at real scripts and not transcripts.

All the pros definitely use screenwriting software. A John August poll found that 75.2% of screenwriters surveyed use Final Draft, which I also use. This program automatically formats a lot of things that would take FOREVER on Word. I know that the $249 pricetag ($180.99 on Amazon) is steep for aspiring writers, but I think it's a worthy investment in your future career. Every professional needs tools for his or her trade, and this is a tool we need for ours. Also, agents/producers/execs/readers/etc will likely be able to tell that your script has been written with Word and not with screenwriting software, even if you spend a long time perfecting your spacing and such. They won't necessarily write off your script as bad, but they might see it as a little amateur - especially since the formatting details are so hard to get right in Word.

When I was in college, my school's bookstore offered a student discount for Final Draft - so check yours to see if that's an option. You can also search for online deals: the Writers Store offers academic versions of Final Draft for as low as $129.

Another John August post on screenwriting software
mentions Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 (which ranges from $99.95-$169.95) and Scriptware, so you may want to look into those too.

Celtx is a free screenwriting program. I have never used it, and friends have given mixed reviews, but I think it would be a much better option than Word.

I also really like Christopher Riley's book The Hollywood Standard for learning about montages and intercuts and figuring out unusual formatting know, like intercutting a montage of flashback testimonials that happen offscreen.

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Father Dowling said...

Isnt there a free script writing software? Celtx?

But I agree Final Draft is an investment if you are serious, and they let anyone byt he student version for 129.

Little Miss Nomad said...

Just an added tip. I wrote a How I Met Your Mother on Sophocles, an old "script software" that wasn't Final Draft, and the studio exec who read it could tell and was pissed off about it. People care about looks in this town, even on paper.

Adaddinsane said...

Yes, Celtx is free - and no, they can't tell the difference.

Xander Bennett said...

Another vote for Celtx, here.

I can't imagine why anyone would ever consider shelling out that kind of money for a glorified piece of word processing software. I can buy more complicated programs for 99 cents on my smartphone.

It's also impractical to suggest that people outside the US buy Final Draft. They lose most of the benefits of support (which is what you're really paying for when you pay for software), and the damn thing comes with restrictive DRM that requires a phone call to the United States to activate. Silly.

But the punchline is this: in my experience, Final Draft is buggy and unstable compared to the free Celtx, which is fairly solid.

Josh K-sky said...

Celtx is great. I wound up buying Final Draft when I got hired to proof a script, and I still prefer to write in Celtx.

samuel.x.killer said...

i used a word template someone made which had presets in screenwriting formula. search word screenwriting template in google and it should pop up

Jay Faerber said...

One note about learning how to do stuff like intercutting: I've been reading a lot of pilots lately, and it quickly becomes apparent that while there is definitely a set format for screenplays, stuff like intercutting seems open to your own personal style. I've seen at least three or four different ways of intercutting between two scenes (generally when two characters are on the phone) and these are all network pilot scripts (which means someone bought them).

So while learning the overall correct format is definitely important, I wouldn't get TOO bogged down in minutiae.

Liz Holliday said...

I had been a dedicated Final Draft user for years but I recently won a copy of Movie Magic and I wouldn't go back now.

Just for the record, though, I am in the UK and it is _not_ necessary to phone the US to activate Final Draft - you can do it online.

One client of mine insisted I use Celtx and I absolutely hated it. You can't see what the layout looks like as you're going along - you have to change views - and I found it very difficult to get a feel for where I was in the script.

A couple of friends swear by Scrivener, which they say can do script layout and a whole lot more. That used to be Mac only but a PC version was being worked on last time I looked. Don't know if it's out yet and I have no idea whether it's really any good for screenwriting. It is reasonably cheap though - about $40, I think.


Crystal said...

Another vote for Celtx! I have both programs and primarily use Celtx. I find that Celtx is just as good as FInal Draft, if not better, for writing features and one-camera shows. It does not have as many options, so you may want to go with Final Draft if you are writing Sitcoms.

Lindsey said...

I used Celtx for two years and just made the switch to Final Draft...and wish I hadn't. Celtx is much simpler to use and end results are the same. Final Draft may come in a nice box and make you feel like a professional, but I'm not sure that's worth $200.

Deciduous said...

Try Logline, which is in public free Beta. It weaves the screenplay structure into the interface, which is immensely beneficial.

Unknown said...

i also used both programs. they do pretty much the same thing and the difference is something you can get used to in 5 minutes. they are both good at what they are intended to do. yet, the price for Final Draft, even $129 for a student's copy is just ridicolous.