This is it! The software smackdown you’ve all been waiting for!
FinalDraft is the most respected and widely used script formatting program. Its interface is very similar to that of MS Word, and to go from element to element all you have to do is Tab. No deep thinking needed. No surprises. And the latest update makes it even better.
FinalDraft has so many good qualities that it’s tough to pick a favorite. I like the Page View that shows you exactly how your work will look, and I love the Tech Support. Ask a question and it’s answered…in a way you can understand. I particularly like the way it imports from and exports to .rtf. Not perfect but close enough, with the added feature that if you want to edit the script in Word you can do so easily and cleanly because the FinalDraft elements remain as styles you can choose. This makes it especially easy to make changes during production. I know, some of you may not be there just yet, but you WILL and then you’ll know what I mean. I also spent some time converting to .html during this round of testing and the results were outstanding. If you’re going to post a script on the Web, this is the way to go.
In the past I found a few negatives about Final Draft. One was that I couldn’t get it to print my page numbers properly. That one’s been solved by the update. Another was a problem unique to television writing–it was tough as hell for me to get acts to end and then start on separate pages. Well, boys and girls, I have to confess that the problem there was entirely my fault. I was using a basic screenplay template instead of one of the many (about a hundred) FinalDraft has for TV. When FD maven (a great Yiddish word, look it up if you don’t know it!) Eric Cohen pointed this out to me I felt the way Bill Gates must have when he heard the Appellate Court decision: “OF COURSE!” Now, the program works like a charm, doing everything I want to do exactly the way I want to do it. Who could ask for more?
Recently, I tried a new program called SOPHOCLES and was very pleased. The learning curve is short enough to get you going in under half an hour, and you can easily Tab your way from element to element.
Bells and whistles abound in SOPHOCLES, and I especially liked its ability to keep a running tab on how much playing time your script will take, and the parallel windows that show you an outline view of the whole screenplay while you’re working on a scene. Exporting to .rtf and .html was effortless as well.
On the negative side is the fact that SOPHOCLES isn’t WYSIWYG and you have to go to Print Preview to see how it looks on the page. Also, the Help is godawful. Don’t even try to learn how to use the program via the instructions, because the only way to really get anywhere (like figure out the Export feature) is by pretending you’re playing a game and clicking on the toolbar like mad until you at last discover what you want.
The first dedicated screenplay writing program I ever used was Scriptware, and I still think it’s one of the best. The learning curve is short. You can be up and running in 20 minutes, with most elements showing up automatically as you need them.
For me, the best feature of Scriptware is that creating production headers and footers is a snap, and so is automatically marking changes and creating “A” pages.
Where Scriptware falls down, however, is in its import-export feature. Importing a script written in any other format, including a Word document, is almost impossible, and exporting is a tedious process at best. (And you can’t export directly to .doc or .rtf!) In fact, the latest version of the program even has compatibility problems with earlier ones. To top off matters, if the file you want to work on or view is in a folder other than Scriptware‘s home turf (like, say, in “My Documents,” you can’t just doubleclick on it and have it open. In such a case only the Scriptware program opens, and you have to nose around its menus to find the file you clicked on and get it to show.
I’ve said a lot of nice things about Screenplay Systems’ Movie Magic ScreenWriter in the past, and they’re all still true. The program is clean, simple, and efficient. Just start typing and the program automatically goes to the proper page on the page. No tabbing or pressing “enter” necessary. If you already know screenplay format, what to capitalize, what to abbreviate, and what not, then no learning time is required. It also exports to .rtf and .html effortlessly and perfectly.
However, this time around I noticed that if you aren’t an expert in how screenplays should look, you’re going to be pretty puzzled. This is a real drawback for a neophyte who is using this kind of software precisely because s/he is clueless, and it steepens the learning curve considerably. Also, when ScreenwWriter2000 creates .rtf it includes FinalDraft styles–an acknowledgement that FinalDraft is the standard.
FinalDraft comes out way ahead. Everything it does is right. You can change all the defaults to just about anything you want. The support is excellent. The website is loaded with updates and downloads to help your writing. And everyone in the Biz uses it, which means that in an era of electronic collaboration you never have to worry about a production company having a bad reaction if you send them a FinalDraft file. There’s even a free viewer so that those who don’t have the software can read any masterpiece you’ve written in it.
And here’s the highest accolade of all: My most recent experience with FinalDraft has actually made me look forward to writing! No more looking for excuses to not work. In fact, when I run out of assignments, I’m going to plunge into a spec, just so I can keep tabbing.