Script Formatting Software

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.


 Movie Magic ScreenWriter

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.

And the winner is:

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.

6 thoughts on “Script Formatting Software

  1. geraldsanford says:

    Yeah! Well, if FINALDRAFT’s all that how come so many of my scripts turned out like s…!? gs

  2. phil paxton says:

    If there are so many good ones, should I withdraw my offer to create one from scratch?

    The import/export features of ScriptWare are baffling, particularly because .rtf and Word formats are open to the world.

    • LB says:

      Scriptware’s pretty much a non-player these days. For pros, there’s Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter and…that’s it. If you can create something “better” as in more intuitive to work with, than it’s worth doing. Otherwise, not so much.



  3. phil paxton says:

    How about web-based scripting software? Then there would only need to be one piece of software, but allowing everything from Mac’s OS X to Windows, tablets/pads, or Linux. (Yes, Linux – and not just for nerds. I have friends who have set their friends & family (including grandparents+older) up on even small-resource; i.e., cheap & old machines, with Open Office and a browser. If that’s all they do, then why pay for Windows?) I’m not a Linux bigot cutting on Windows. Windows has paid for a lot of bill$. My grandmother, who will be 95 in less than a month, does quite well with Windows, so I have no intention(s) of trying to show her a better way to do things.

    It’ll give me a chance to get back to a language I haven’t used in a couple of years – before it was intentionally broken to give it a longer life. I like to interact with people who are serious enough they’ll tell you when you need to brush your teeth or take a shower), I take criticism well, even if it’s in the public eye. I’m also not afraid to ask stupid questions (especially this such as, “why is it this way instead of…?”) and it’ll warm me up to what I’m going to have to do with my start-up.

    I’ve also written things *far* more complex over the previous 30+ years (almost 25 on the ‘net). I’m not saying this will be a snap, but I’ve got the skills to make it happen. My code isn’t perfect (and I don’t rely upon trial & error to make things work) and I do like writing things which makes the lives of others a bit better off than before. I’ve never written a game because of this, although cribbage is getting more & more attractive.

    I’ll even make it free, quite likely open source. After all, if I get hit by bus, I’d rather not strand anyone who relies upon it. And the data format would certainly be open. I’m open to RFEs (Requests For Enhancements – adding new features or enhancing existing ones). I also tend to write very versatile code so fixing one bug doesn’t introduce three others. And if features seem to clash, that’s when you set up some type of options which allow people to do it their way.

    When it comes to writing software others will use more than I (will), I tend to worry about how useful it is for other people as well as the innards of the system.

    Also, it would be made possible for the documents to be exported/downloaded into something like XML (if this isn’t familiar to you, just think of it as a common/universal format which is made for these types of situations) and it would be up to other software vendors to decide if they want to either supply the file format their software uses or the means to import XML with everything defined to make their lives be easier. Even music has been used with XML. You (the user(s) don’t have to worry about XML – that has an internal purpose, not something a user worries about.

    Why would they (vendors) be willing to support an import feature like that? Because if someone is importing material into their software, then it means that person is using their software. If they don’t do it, it might cause a person to go elsewhere.

    Besides, it would be easier to support collaboration. What software currently supports this in a reliable & easy-to-use fashion? How about when it involves software packages on multiple machines with different types/versions of software? I’d like to know so I know what I’m up against and what does/not work properly. I tend to approach things like this to think of it like, “how could we make it so ten (or just an arbitrary number of) people could collaborate” as even two or three would be capable. Heck, one person working alone would be treated as a collaboration so there’s just one piece of code to do the dirty work. Besides, if you make changes to your own material, you could look at it in some type of markup and accept changes before posting it back to a database.

    Oh, and we’ll have to christen it, even if only to get a domain & blog for it.

    What say you? You aren’t going to get a better bargain.

    If you don’t think there’s a need for this type of software, say so, even if you aren’t interested in using it.

    • LB says:

      FWIW, I’d never use it because when you’re a pro screenwriting software’s utility doesn’t end when you finish the script. Writers working on assignment or on staff don’t print out scripts and mail or courier them to potential readers. We email them to our bosses or assistants, and since everyone pretty much uses Final Draft that’s the most acceptable format to use.

      I know I’ve said this before, but I have to say it again and hope for an answer. Why the hell are writers, who only need two specific items of equipment in order to practice their profession, so reluctant to pay the price for one of those items – the formatting app that’s the industry standard? (Um, the other item of equipment is, you know, a computer.) Hell, carpenters end up spending way more for their tools, and income potential for writers is so much higher.

      Oh well.

      Good idea, Phil, but, frankly, I’d rather see you using your imagination to write something new/exciting/wonderful. I’m funny that way.



  4. phil paxton says:

    Good feedback – sorry it took so long to register.

    (I told you I appreciate negative feedback. If it gets too bad, I’ve got a spot on my DVR where Rocky gives up (in Rocky III) and Adrian sets him straight.)

    (rhetorical) You’d like something better than “Skip Trace: Bounty Hunter”, right? 😉

    And with that, I’m going to move back to the boards to help restore signal::noise here.

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