July 4, 2009
Due to strict formatting requirements—often mysteriously varying between movie scripts, stageplays, and other media—the industries of theater and film can be difficult to reach for those trying to break into the business.
Final Draft 8 helps bridge this gap, while offering signature features that also make life much easier for professionals.
The program is, at its heart, for scriptwriting. Yet, with just under 100 category-specific templates for other media, Final Draft has stretched itself across a much broader range of use.
It divides its templates across four categories: scripts, graphic novels, TV templates, and text documents.
Within these categories are templates for writing everything from Broadway musicals and novels, to scripts for specific TV shows including CSI and Hannah Montana.
The program is already well known among professionals—commonly used for its signature formatting options and shortcuts.
Yet, thanks to a few helpful additions, the program is also user-friendly for newcomers in the field. Amateurs should find this program a welcome starting point, as each template is easy to use and comes with a short tutorial on writing for each media category.
Writing in Final Draft 8
When I first began using Final Draft 8, I didn’t quite know what to expect.
Similar programs I’ve used—such as Liquid Storybook Teller and others—held only short-lived interest for me due to their complexity. Too often in such programs, it’s easy to get lost between menus for outlines, writing, and formatting.
After spending some time with Final Draft, I can see how it gained its reputation.
As mentioned above, industry requirements for comic drafts, movie scripts, plays, and so on are complicated. Each one has specific formatting requirements that encompass nearly everything from font and spacing to tone arrangement of text.
These specifics will often change even from TV show to TV show and from company to company.
There’s a good chance that any document failing to meet these standards will not last longer than the cover page before soaring into a trash pail—it’s the harsh reality of the business.
Final Draft can open in different templates. The selection screen gives a few general topics, with a list of sub-categories specific to each one. As a test-run, I opened up the movie script template specifically for the TV show, “My Name is Earl.”
Once opened, the program gave a short example of how a professional script for the show would look. At first glance, I thought it was an actual script from the show, yet upon closer inspection I found the program to be much more helpful than I thought.
In the areas where the text has already been filled in the template offers ideas to help you get started. It also gives tips on what the company will expect to see in the script.
For example, the intro scene read: “We’ll see this scene heading a lot as this is where Earl and Randy live. Maybe their friend Catalina will be present and maybe she’s trying to clean up while talking to Earl. Like so...”
The template then gives a short example of the conversations.
Other parts of the template give tips on formatting—which the program does for you automatically. For example, one part of the template read: “This half-hour comedy does not double-space its dialogue, does not have a teaser, and runs three acts.”
This is valuable information that is often hard to learn and difficult to understand, yet it is essential to a script being accepted.
After using the “My Name is Earl” template, I decided to try out a more commonly used template. I opened a template on writing query letters under the “Text Document” category.
The query letter is what a writer sends to a company to propose a script, play or article. Writing according to its strict layout is a fundamental requirement for entering such industries as without doing so, getting published or accepted is next to hopeless.
I found that when I opened the template, Final Draft changed the formatting options accordingly to match specific requirements. It also had a sample query letter prewritten, along with a paragraph-by-paragraph guide on what should go where and how to write it.
For example, a description above the intro paragraph reads: “Keep the paragraphs short, punchy, warm and not too formal. Say what you’re looking for and give a brief description of your script.”
I found this helpful and very easy to use.
To give a more rounded view of the templates, I opened and scrolled through a few others. All offered a unique glimpse into their categories.
Making Things Easier
One signature feature of Final Draft 8 is a small menu that pops up when you press the “Enter” key twice. This menu will automatically add in character announcements, scene changes, actions, and so on—a process that is otherwise quite time consuming.
Anyone who has read a script knows how this can be useful. Documents like these are written in such a way that specific indentations and writing styles can be found nearly every couple of sentences.
These change, for example, after a character speaks or does something, and each time the scene changes. Manually formatting this can be quite tedious.
Since the pop-up menu in Final Draft basically automates this process, writing scripts becomes a much faster and easier process.
Shortcut keys can also be assigned to each function, making the process even easier. Plus, you can create your own menu options to automatically change the font, spacing, or other choices as you need them.
After experimenting with the pop-up menu in several templates, I found it almost always useful—the exception being the novel-writing template, where I found the menu only useful in changing chapters.
Initially, I thought that the menu’s options were the same in each template, as the names assigned to each option seemed to be the same in each category—such as Dialogue, Character, Action, and so on.
But as I examined it further, I found that the program makes changes to what the various options do in accordance to what is required in each template.
I also noticed that the program automatically saves and makes back-ups of your document. Anyone who has lost a report due to a power outage knows how helpful this can be.
A prompt occasionally pops up asking if you would like to save your work. This reminder can also be turned off so that the program saves automatically behind the scenes.
It can also be set to autosave anywhere from once every three minutes, to once every 60 minutes. I kept mine at the default 15 minutes.
In a Nutshell
Final Draft 8 is among the top programs in its category—as many professionals in the field of scriptwriting will attest.
Combining speedy formatting shortcuts and templates with written guides, the program is just as much for beginners as it is for veterans in the field.
Final Draft is also very small, about 66 MB, so it opens quickly and has next to no lag time while writing.
Keep in mind that Final Draft is not designed to be a replacement for programs such as Microsoft Word or Pages, since it does not include many of the tools included in those programs.
Yet, in the field of scriptwriting, comic outlines, and nearly 100 other media categories, Final Draft 8 is a sure win.