Rating the Screenplay Software

Movie Magic 6—Write Brothers, Inc. A

Final Draft 8—Final Draft Inc. B-

Celtx—http://celtx.com/ A-

Before we begin, I should admit that this post is very subjective. I only used the free trials and did not in fact buy any of the products listed (small budget). For those not in the know, formatting software helps screenwriters take their Word document and shape it into a screenplay. There are varying degrees of automation, but generally the user presses tab and enter in varying ways, a tab to make Jon a “character name”—JON, centered, and an enter for dialogue to also appear in the center of the page. Enough explanation, let’s get right down to it—while Final Draft may be the industry standard, it’s also rather expensive. Movie Magic 6.0 is good—but again, it’s not cheap, and Celtx is free and also pretty sturdy. Let’s hit these three in a bit more depth.

Final Draft 8 reminds me of a really ritzy spa. They’re over generous and almost cloying when you pay membership but if you’re on a freebie account they could care less about you. For example, unlike Movie Magic, which offers a five day trial—Final Draft only allows you to save fifteen pages or less documents. So, if you really wanted to use FD on a trial, think again. I did get to glance at a few cool gizmos. There are dozens of templates, whether traditional screenplay, stage play, or even “BBC Three-Camera Show” format, in case you have a Judi Dench vehicle coming up.

The templates work well, but are a little strict, if you make a mistake while formatting, as I often do, the program does not help correct. It is generally a matter of “Ctrl + Z” and starting over. In fact, the text often gloms together and will not come apart. Maybe with a more complete trial I could figure out how to work this, but with only fifteen pages to save, my hands are tied. Final Draft also offers other gizmos; you can register your script online with the Writers Guild. There is also collaboration software, if you want to go down that route, although how that works, being a solo screenwriter, is beyond me. It also offers notes and index card programs, in case you haven’t been to Staples in years.

So, on to Movie Magic 6. I found this program both less expensive and a lot more fun to use. For example, while you have many templates, sans BBC, you can mess around with those templates to fit your own specifications. Want the dialogue double-spaced? It’s a format change away. Movie Magic also comes with the index cards and really good breakdown software (breakdown is the next step in screenwriting, after the script is approved, a line producer goes through each scene and decides what props, actors, animal trainers, and other things he or she needs). On top of that, the formatting is easier to accomplish. Again, there are less “bells and whistles” but a much better value and for the beginning screenwriter with a budget, and a much more sensible buy.

Finally we come to Celtx, my screenwriting software. Anyone can download this, it’s free, you don’t need to be rich. The downside is that the formatting is only for screenplays, stage plays, and a few other types, so TV writers may have to invest a bit more. It also has breakdown features, a very usable format, and a PDF converter. Plus, Celtx has a strong online community that is wildly loyal to the software and can answer any questions on their forum. I would recommend this to the screenwriter starting out (ala me) who doesn’t want to invest too much (read: any) because that person is still looking for work. I would graduate to Movie Magic 6, and then once a studio hires you, make them buy you Final Draft 8, although we may be on version 32 by the time you make it up there.

I hope this post wasn’t too long, but you do have choices. Be aware that there are more people making money from screenwriters than screenwriters making money. People who write need to realize that their investment should be their writing and not their tools. Programs come and go, and to be honest, who cares what the screenplay looks like. What matters is it is good. I would much rather read an amazing screenplay written in Word than another boring genre potboiler with five hundred special effects and robots who act human, and actors who act like robots. Which is just to say, be careful and don’t overpay.

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