SOFTWARE

The software you choose to write your scripts comes down to a matter of personal taste. If, indeed, you choose to use software at all. Some writers still prefer the good old fashioned pen-and paper approach. Stephen King often writes his novels this way. Hard to argue with that one.

Broadly, your choice falls into two categories: purpose-written scriptwriting software, or general purpose Word Processing software.


Scriptwriting Software

Final Draft

Final Draft 9 logo

F ar and away the most popular choice. Almost all screenplays are written with Final Draft, or imported into Final Draft at some point in the production process.


On the plus side, it offers many templates, taken from existing shows, movies and plays, including the 'house style' of all the major Hollywood studios and networks. It has nifty auto-complete options, to save your poor fingers from RSI, filling in character names, scene locations and even goes as far as guessing who's going to speak next when you're writing dialogue. On top of which, it offers many benefits for the production process – scene breakdowns and the like. It has an index card system for planning out your masterpiece before you start writing. In version 9, they have finally abandonned 'Collaborwriter', a disasterous feature which theoretically enabled you and a writing partner to work on a script simultaneously, but never actually worked. Shame, because it would be very handy. There's also an iPad version, for which, of course you have to fork out more of your hard-earned.


On the negative side: Final Draft is a bit of a fascist. If you want to do something out of the ordinary with your scripts, it simply won't let you. It doesn't allow images of any kind, because including pictures in your script is frowned on in Hollywood, so you can't add a logo, a descriptive diagram or even a splash of colour if you feel the need. It's also very sassy about 'activation'. You're allowed to have a working copy on two machines, and that's it. If you have any kind of computer disaster, or buy a new machine, be prepared for a long wait or a long transatlantic phone call to get Final Draft working.


Celtx

Celtx logo

Celtx is a FREE Final Draft-like program. It offers most of the features that FD does – the plus version, at $9.99 even more so. You can also purchase a mobile version for the iPad/iPhone for £2.99, though writing a screenplay on an iPhone is an activity that should be reserved for one of the less glamorous circles of hell. Theoretically, it can save in a Final Draft-like format, and even open Final Draft files, though I've occasionally had problems with both of these activities. Still, if money's tight, this is definitely the way to go.


Highland

Highland logo

Highland is an interesting new kid on the block. Mac only, at the moment, it's an extremely stripped-down script processor: You pretty much just type the words, and don't worry about the layout. So long as your characters are typed in UPPER CASE, Highland then turns your masterpiece into a Final Draft-readable script. It works, it's simple, and it helps you focus on the scripting and not the style. Very neat. It's currently selling for around £20.99 from the Mac App store.

Its most amazing feature, though, is its ability to parse a PDF file into a Final Draft file. If the file was originally created in Final Draft, the conversion works perfectly and instantly.

It provides a distraction-free environment for you to focus entirely on the screenplay. And it's cheap. Definitely worth a try.


Movie Magic

Movie Magic Screenwriter

Movie Magic Screenwriter is cheaper than Final Draft, but with all the fascism intact, and then some. Up until the latest version, you had to have a copy of the original CD permanently in your computer's drive if you wanted to run a secondary copy on your laptop, for instance. Now computers ship without drives, I'm guessing they've abandoned that particular security measure, and gone with serial numbers, like all the other software on the planet. It has special features for budgeting. Like we care. Still, it's cheaper than FD: around £99.


Others

There are oodles of other attempts at scriptwriting software around, but these are the big players. If anyone out there has a favourite, by all means let me know, and I'll give it a whirl.

Word Processors

Microsoft Word

Office for Mac

I've used this for most of my writing career. Version 5, way back in the eighties, was perfect for scriptwriting. Microsoft spend the next 20 years steadily making it worse. Unbearable and pointlessly complex, with a file format deliberately designed to prevent other applications from reading it, and it can't even read Microsoft Word files created by earlier versions of itself. Unfortunately, it's the world's de facto word processor, and it's hard to get by without a copy. The latest incarnation, however, (Office 365) takes the biscuit: you can't actually buy it, you can only rent it by the year.


It is Microsoft, let's not forget, and so, naturally, it has some drawbacks. Its spellchecker won't let you use rude words, amusingly – though that's true of pretty much every spellchecker on the market, as if every user is an eight-year-old child. Annoying if you're trying to do grown up writing. Word's autotype features are limited – still worse than good old version 5 – and difficult to get at, so you'll probably want to splash out on a supplementary program, such as TextExpander or TypeIt4Me (both Mac only) to save yourself some finger-bashing. Breevy is a Windows equivalent that imports TextExpander snippets from a Mac, or you can plump for the free ActiveWords.


On the up side, most people can read Word files, though if you're submitting a script, I recommend you send it as a PDF file. Everyone can read PDF files, and they maintain layout integrity across systems, which means that page 9 on your copy is still page 9 on the transmitted copy. Best of all, it's hard for other people to fiddle with your script when it's a PDF. And Word saves out reasonably good PDF versions of files.


Or you can plump for the free Open Office, a rebel open-source alternative to Microsoft, which can actually open and edit Word files. You can also download extensions to expand usability, such as a UK English spelling dictionary and a PDF import module. It's now in version 4, and is very stable, mature and useable.


Others

We all have our favourite word processor, and there's not a great deal to choose between them. Apple's offering is Pages, and it's fine. It now ships free with new Macs, and there's a free iPad version in the iTunes store. It's been stripped back for maximum compatibility online, but features are slowly returning, version by version. There's a free cloud version in the iCloud suite. Or you can try the equally free, equally cloudy Google Docs, a cloud-based service, where the software is hosted online. The word processing functions are rather limited, and you might be nervous about working in such an ephemeral way, but it's really handy for online collaboration. You can have two people updating a document in real time. Neat.


Ommwriter is one of a new breed of distraction-free word processing apps, which are intended to liberate you from the drudgery of formatting your text. Anything that eliminates distractions for a writer ought to be a good thing, but I personally find them annoying, because they won't do what I tell them. And in the end, of course, you're going to have to format the damned thing anyway.


Page Layout Programs

InDesign

InDesign Creative Cloud

Adobe have now adopted a rental-only policy on all their software, so unless you've already got a Creative Cloud membership, it's unlikely to be worth your while investing, just to get your hands on In Design.

If you're lucky enough to have access to a CC membership, or you have an old copy (even a couple-of-versions-old second hand copy costs a fortune), there's no better way to make your script look beautiful. Be aware, it's got a fairly steep learning curve: most professional publications, both print and electronic, are fashioned in InDesign.


It's not great for actually writing the script – that's not what it's designed to do – but it will help your script stand out from the crowd. When I'm submitting a script for consideration, I usually write in Word or Final Draft, and then I'll often import the finished script or manuscript into InDesign for prettifying. No time for those niceties, though, when you're in production.