Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 263 - Which Screenwriting software Should I Get?

There are myriad screenwriting programs to choose from. The big industry leaders are Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. Of course, if you don't want to shell out a couple hundred bucks for writing software, there are various cheap or even free online alternatives. Celtx seems to be the biggest offering, though apparently Adobe has a program, as do Scripped (they claim it's free for members) and ScriptBuddy. I'm sure a quick Google search will turn up manifold others. (Full disclosure - I haven't used any of the web-based options, so I have no idea how well they work or how standard their formatting is.)

I use Movie Magic, because when I bought it a decade ago, I was told that there was no industry preference between that and Final Draft. Apparently, I was led astray.

After over a year working with my writing partner, W.A., on our sci-fi spec, we finally got it to our producer last week. She read it really quickly, and we scheduled (and had - see next installment) a call this past Monday about the script. In preparation for the conversation, though, she asked for the script in Final Draft. W.A. replied to her that, nope, Zach writes in Movie Magic, so no dice. As if that wasn't embarrassing, the same thing had happened when W.A. asked me for the script in Final Draft format. Both he and the producer like to make their notes directly in the script - this is quite common in the developmental stages of a screenplay. Hell, even I scribble all over the page when editing. Without the file in front of them, they would either have to write over a pdf, then scan and email it out, or write all their notes in a word document and then hope they sync up with the script. 

Either way, the effort to markup a script is not ideal. And when something isn't technologically ideal, it's an inconvenience. Luckily for me, both W.A. and our producer are quite accommodating and understanding; W.A. even said, to paraphrase, "Don't worry about it, Final Draft just managed to pull ahead in the past few years." The rival programs are supposed to be able to convert screenplays from one format to the other, but the fact is that neither does. To convert a Movie Magic screenplay into a Final Draft one, you first need to save it as an rtf file, which both programs can do and can import. Then, as W.A. did last night, Final Draft can import it practically seamlessly. 

Facility with the workaround solution aside, I can't ignore the fact that of the two industry professionals I'm working with on this project, neither is using Movie Magic, and both assumed I was on Final Draft. Ultimately, though we were able to convert the script to Final Draft easily, the software question left me a bit red faced and feeling more a rookie than I think I am at this point. 

A word in Movie Magic's defense, though - I love the software. For ten years now, I've written screenplays (and a few plays) on it with little hassle or trouble. The version I have, 4.5.3 (they are now on 6), doesn't allow all title page features, for some reason, so I have a bare-bones formatting template to work with there. Otherwise, I really don't have any complaints about it, and using the program has become second nature to me. I haven't used Final Draft, so I'm not sure what the differences are, but I can't imagine they're too great in terms of general functionality or appearance. If you're weighing your options and looking to acquire some screenwriting software, know that I believe you will be quite happy with the user interface and functionality of Movie Magic Screenwriter, especially, I assume, the latest version. However, it's important to know that it seems the tug of war has crossed the line in Final Draft's favor, and that is nothing to overlook.