Best Screenwriting Software
At the dawn of screenwriting, screenplays were typed the old fashioned way: on a typewriter. Back then, a Screenwriter had to really know the specific screenplay format for the script to be considered professionally written. Typewriters eventually evolved into word processors and those gave life to the modern home computer. Now, we all have the benefit and convenience of crafting our screenplays on our laptops and desktop computers with the aid of some advanced and user-friendly screenwriting software programs that allow us to worry less about format and focus more on story. Here are some examples of screenwriting software packages that can help bring your next screenplay to life and even teach you how to write a screenplay.
Our picks for the best screenwriting software include:
- Final Draft
- Movie Magic Screenwriter
- Fade In
- Writer Duet
- Free screenwriting software
Still considered the industry standard, Final Draft has a long history as the go-to screenplay writing software package and it is probably still the most used screenwriting tool in film and television. Its history dates back to 1990 when it was founded by Marc Madnick and Ben Cahan and has even been awarded a Primetime Emmy Engineering Award in 2013. In 2016, it was acquired by Cast & Crew Entertainment Services and it offers the submission-standard formatting structure for studios, the Writer’s Guild of America, and world-wide screenplay contests.
Final Draft is simple, efficient, and powerful and allows the Screenwriter to quickly and effectively navigate screenplay structure while meeting the rigid requirements of screenplay format. One of its best features is that the built-in SmartType component remembers the names of characters and locations and automatically “learns” them so that even when you type the first letter it will give you a drop-down list of options, cutting the time you need to type each item.
Final Draft claims that it is used by 95% of film and TV professionals and it also offers the opportunity to not only write your screenplay, but it also allows you to seamlessly create beat boards, story maps, location, and character lists, is great with colored revisions, and offers a collaboration mode so you can create a script with a partner.
Here’s what you need to note about submitting screenplays to competitions, studios, the WGA, or class assignments: they will either be emailed in the universal PDF format or handed in on paper and the software used to create the screenplay will be inconsequential at that point. So don’t fret about using what’s considered the industry standard. Just find software you can afford and that gets the job done.
In a very close 2nd place to Final Draft is Movie Magic Screenwriter, which not only allows you to more easily write a screenplay, but also has built-in formats for stage plays, teleplays, musicals, comic books, novels, and short stories. It is also officially endorsed by the Writer’s Guild of American East. Its import option is spectacular, allowing you to import screenplays started or fully written in Microsoft Word, PDF, or Rich Text Documents with very little re-formatting required.
It’s almost impossible to tell the difference between Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter and both are considered “the big two” when it comes to first choices in screenplay software. They are also the most expensive and when updated versions are released, those upgrades usually cost the owner about $99 more to upgrade to the latest version. You have to remember that screenplays were originally typed on typewriters and screenplay writers memorized the format. So, any software that makes your life easier should do so not because it’s expensive or a standard, but because it allows you to focus more on the writing and less on the structure.
At a more affordable price tag, Fade In is becoming a competitive and reliable alternative to Final Draft and more and more Writers are using it. Here’s what you need to note about submitting screenplays to competitions, studios, the WGA, or class assignments: they will either be emailed in the universal PDF format or handed in on paper and the software used to create the screenplay will be inconsequential at that point. So don’t fret about using what’s considered the industry standard. Just find software you can afford and that gets the job done.
Fade In gets the job done. It offers extensive formatting options including industry standard layout format, autocomplete typing that fills in characters and locations, a collaboration mode so you can partner with other writers, image support so you can add a vibrant and impactful image to your title page, colored revisions, breakdown reports, and it can go mobile on your phone or tablet.
Whereas Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Fade In offer one-time purchasing options, Celtx is a monthly subscription, online screenwriting software package that offers screenplay writing essentials including a comprehensive script editor, standard screenplay formats, standard stage play formats, 2-column Audio/Video formats used in television and commercials, storyboarding options, colored revision tracking, and email and online support.
The benefit of Celtx is that if you can write your screenplay in a month, you can save a lot of money compared to the previously mentioned software packages and Celtx is becoming another industry standard. I highly recommend it for film students and Screenwriters working on a budget.
Another interesting option is that Celtx offers progress reports for writers working professionally with an Agent, Manager, or studio exec. As you make advancements on your work, the software can update those folks and keep them abreast of your progress.
COST: $20 monthly
($180 if you pay for the yearly subscription)
Writer Duet is offered completely online, but also offers off-line writing options. The best thing about it is that you can write your first 3 scripts completely free online with their cloud-based writing software. There is no page limit, no time limit, and no limit on exporting or importing your work. It is a great option that offers many of the screenwriting choices offered by Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, or Fade In.
It is also compatible with Final Draft, Celtx, PDF, Word, HTML, Adobe, and Rich Text. It offers really visual and intuitive index card options that allow you to move around scenes, action, and dialogue as if using a virtual office cork board. It will color specific revisions within the script and it prides itself on its ability to allow collaboration between multiple Writers online.
I personally used Writer Duet for some professional jobs as an Assistant Director, allowing me to break down a script and schedule certain locations and it worked really well. I recommend it as a much cheaper alternative to some of the larger screenplay software packages mentioned above.
Firstly, learn screenplay format without using any software -– learning how to write a script is imperative. Think of yourself as a Pilot. Sure, automatic pilot exists, but don’t you want your Pilot to really know how to fly a plane? You should understand screenplay format until it’s intuitive and software should make your life easier as a Writer.
Designed exclusively for Mac, Slugline is affordable and clean. The developers of Slugline claim that it is the best-reviewed screenwriting software in the Mac App Store and its mission is to take formatting completely out of the Writer’s way, allowing the Writer to focus on story. It works very well on the iPhone and iPad and its Outline Navigator updates your script live as you write. It offers a cool night mode for writing at night next to your partner while he or she tries to sleep when you just have to make a deadline. It offers touchscreen editing on your phone or tablet. It’s very modern, fast, and affordable.
COST: $39.99 for desktop
($19.99 for iPhone and iPad)
Now we’re starting to get into the lesser known screenplay packages that may not be as fluid or well-designed as some of the industry standards. However, don’t write off a software package like Montage just because of its lower cost. Its best asset is that it allows long-time Final Draft users to easily import Final Draft formatted scripts with little to no re-formatting. That is a huge benefit for Writers looking to keep writing in an industry standard while saving a few bucks. No one wants to re-write a script and Montage allows you to pick up where you left off while no longer having to use Final Draft. The copy of FD you have may be on disk and perhaps you can’t afford the cost of new FD downloads. That’s where Montage can step in.
Free Screenwriting Software
Here is what you have to remember when writing a screenplay: it’s not what you write with, but how you write. Firstly, learn screenplay format without using any software -– learning how to write a script is imperative. Think of yourself as a Pilot. Sure, automatic pilot exists, but don’t you want your Pilot to really know how to fly a plane? You should understand screenplay format until it’s intuitive and software should make your life easier as a Writer. It can’t, however, do the work for you. You can even still write on a typewriter — George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino still write with pen and pencil. So, no matter which screenplay software you choose, it’s all about the story!