May 30, 2006
by Cade Metz
Final Draft 7.0
As we discussed at length in two recent features—"Hollywood Reboots" and "Making an Indie Film" (PC Magazine, May 21, 2006)—computers now play a role in every step of the moviemaking process. Naturally, that includes the very first step: script writing. Modern screenwriters don't use typewriters. They don't even use everyday word processors. They use specialized software applications that automatically format movie scripts as they're being written.
Scriptware (www.scriptware.com), Sophocles (www.sophocles.net), and Movie Magic Screenwriter (www.screenplay.com) all have their fans, but the market leader is still Final Draft. The latest version, 7.0, sells for a cool $229 direct (the competition ranges from $120 to $249), but if you're serious about screenwriting—or playwriting, for that matter—it's well worth the cost.
Final Draft doesn't just format scripts according to industry standards, putting scene headings, character names, and dialog exactly where they need to be. It also gives you all sorts of tools designed to facilitate other parts of the script-writing game, including the actual storytelling. With Version 7.0, you can call on screenwriting tips from industry experts, and, if you like, you can even ask the app to read your script aloud, using different voices for each character. The automated voices are on the slow and robotic side—using this feature won't replace a real reading, by any means—but it can still be cool, and useful, to hear somebody read what you've written.
Final Draft is best used from the beginning, when you first sit down to compose a script. You can take an existing script—one composed in, say, Microsoft Word—and convert it to the proper format using the app's "reformat" wizard, but the process is time-consuming. I imported one of my old (eccentrically formatted) scripts, and it took a few hours to get everything in order. If you start with a blank page, however, the process is wonderfully simple—at least, once you get used to the interface.
Using a pull-down menu at the top of the app, you tell the app what sort of text you're about to enter, and it responds accordingly. Selecting "character," for instance, lets you quickly center a character name just above a piece of dialog. Selecting "Action" moves you back out to the left margin, where action is typically described. And so on. I found that the app was quite good at anticipating what I was about to type, automatically moving my cursor to the proper spot on the page. As I keyed in character names, it kept track of them, launching a pop-up menu of names to choose from for each new piece of dialog.
Not a screenwriter? No worries: Final Draft also handles all sorts of stage-play and teleplay formats, including templates for everything from BBC sitcoms to Broadway musicals. Whatever you're writing, the app's "Ask the Expert" wizard lets you browse tips from industry experts. Syd Field, author of the classic how-to book Screenplay, handles screenwriting. Playwright Jonathan Dorf advises you on stageplays. And veteran TV writer Larry Brody covers teleplays. I thought their instructions were on the obvious side—and pretty useless. But those new to script writing may find them helpful.
As you write, you can also annotate your script, embedding pop-up notes throughout. You can add bookmarks so you can instantly jump to important sequences at will. And you can collaborate with other writers via a built-in chat window. Then, once you've finished your script, you can instantly register it with the Writers Guild. You can export to PDF format, so you can easily share your work via e-mail. Granted, these aren't tools everyone will use everyday. But all are nice to have.
For me, getting to know the basic ins and outs of Final Draft was a tad frustrating. When I write, I want to write—not worry about formatting. But in the long run, as you get to know the product, it pays dividends. The end result is that you really don't have to worry about formatting. It largely takes care of itself.
Final Draft version 7.0 is available for both Windows and Mac, and files look identical on both platforms. If you write for stage or screen, it's high time you picked up a copy.