June 17, 2009
In the world of motion pictures and cartoon animation, Final Draft is an industrial standard. Outside that world, Final Draft is largely unknown. Yet, even when shooting a corporate video with some live action, you most probably can't do without a scripting application. Of course you can use MS Word or Apple Pages, but Final Draft is specifically tailored for writing scripts.
When you start Final Draft, there’s little to remind you of the specific purpose for which this application is developed. It looks like a strange word processor. But as soon as you start typing, you’ll enter the world of scripts, dialogues, scenes, etc. And let me warn you upfront: without at least having glanced through the excellent manual, you won’t be able to make much good use of Final Draft.
Final Draft follows the industrial standards plotted out by Hollywood’s many decades of experience with creating movies. This means writing in Final Draft follows a rather rigid and strict pattern of rules. For example, you start by entering a scene heading, then adding an action, characters, dialogues, parentheticals, transitions, etc.—in that order; almost all of the time, anyway.
The application enforces the rules and therefore also the order that I just described. Hitting the Return key doesn’t move you forward through this set of ‘activities’, it’s the tab key that you’ll use most of the time. Once you get the hang of it, Final Draft feels almost natural, even if you haven’t written a script ever before in your life. Best of all: the program does allow you to break the rules and turn it into a basic word processor (but it’s better if you have a word processor as well…).
The application has a large number of time saving features, which are not just important for a movie or TV-show script writer, but certainly—and perhaps even more so—for script writers in business environments (e.g. writers of video clips / ads). There are keyboard shortcuts with mnemonics in the status bar of the main window, there are lists of characters, actions, scene headers (once you’ve typed one, the list automatically becomes populated), etc.
Final Draft even has Collaboration Features
All of these help you shorten the time it takes to type repetitive entries, such as characters that have a conversation. Final Draft also enhances the user experience with its specially designed Courier font. Courier is the standard font for scripts. And if you lose track of Final Draft’s features, there is an extensive help system that includes the WGaW Creative Rights Handbook.
Another feature that I particularly liked were the multiple views of a script. Scene view wit colours for every scene, index card view, all different ways of looking at the same script, and many of them exactly resembling the paper equivalent that script writers used to present before there were Macs…
With computers, these views can also be shown next to each other, in synchronised panels. Text-to-speech allows you to hear for yourself how a dialogue works out. It’s one the rare times that I found the text-to-speech capabilities of my Mac actually useful. ScriptNotes are the equivalent of version control and track changes in word processors—they serve the same purpose, do not change the pagination and are not printed. Final Draft even has built-in collaboration capabilities through CollaboWriter, which you activate simply by allowing port 5001 to pass through your firewall.
Now, I could end my review here, because when the script has been written, the job is done, right? Well, not exactly. Final Draft offers an extra step: production. Production features in Final Draft include the ability to save revisions, add items without changing pagination downstream, creating scene numbers, and have master scripts that include all the revisions the script goes through.
After having spent a couple of weeks with Final Draft 8, I came to the conclusion that writing a script isn’t as straightforward as a layman would normally think. It’s not the writing that’s hard, it’s the way you should structure your document that is not obvious. Final Draft helps in more than one way to overcome those difficulties. It helps you impose the standard structures used throughout the industry. It helps save a lot of time with its smart lists of characters, styles, etc.
And it even comes with a Tagger application that can export a script into highly structured XML for direct ingestion in production systems such as Avid, Final Cut, etc.
My conclusion after those weeks was that if you want to manage any kind of production process that involves scenes, characters and actions—no matter whether these appear in a Hollywood production or a modest company video clip—preparing the production using Final Draft for scripting and then perhaps Toon Boom Storyboard Pro for the storyboarding will improve the end-result.