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Summary:

If you’ve ever harbored the desire to write for the silver screen and tried to do something about it, you’ll already know about Final Draft, the showbiz industry’s favorite scriptwriting software. Everyone in Hollywood uses it; Studio Execs, beleaguered Producers, hot-shot directors… even Michael Bay uses […]

final_draft

If you’ve ever harbored the desire to write for the silver screen and tried to do something about it, you’ll already know about Final Draft, the showbiz industry’s favorite scriptwriting software.

Everyone in Hollywood uses it; Studio Execs, beleaguered Producers, hot-shot directors… even Michael Bay uses it, but don’t let that last one put you off. If you use Final Draft, you’ll be in the company of James Cameron, Guillermo del Toro and Richard Donner. JJ Abrams is quoted saying, “Even if you don’t own a computer, I recommend buying Final Draft.”

The company behind Final Draft — also called Final Draft — has crammed an impressive array of tools and functionality into version eight. In fact, there’s so much functionality that for novice users it can seem daunting getting to grips with it.

The good news is that it’s really quite easy to get started with Final Draft, particularly if you have some idea of how movie or TV scripts are constructed. And even if you don’t, Final Draft makes the learning process so smooth it’s really just part of your work flow. The software keeps your work in order, properly formatted, properly structured, yet never gets “in the way.”

A typical script workspace

There is a mountain of goodness packed into this release. So much, in fact, it’s beyond the scope of this review, but here’s a quick rundown of the highlights.

Templates

If you’re unsure of how to structure your script, you can use one of over 50 television and movie templates bundled with the application. There are dozens more available on the Final Draft website, too, though the assumption is that you are a naughty software thief so you must provide a valid customer number before you can download them.

Templates comes in lots of flavours, including movie scripts...

Templates come in many of flavors, including movie scripts...

...TV shows...

...TV shows...

...Graphic Novels...

...Graphic Novels...

...and even good old fashioned manuscripts.

...and even good old fashioned manuscripts.

Smart Element Formatting

The single greatest feature in Final Draft is its intelligent and intuitive element formatting. The software watches what you type and anticipates what you are doing next. With only the tiniest bit of learning, you’ll find yourself zooming through scripts faster than Stephen King can knock-out novels.

Smart Elements pop-up works a lot like IntelliType

Smart Elements pop-up works a lot like IntelliType

Speech

Final Draft lets you assign the Mac OS X system voices to the characters in your script, and have them read-aloud. Ask any writer — there is enormous value in hearing another voice read your dialogue back at you!

Choose which character gets which voice...

Choose which character gets which voice...

...then hit play!

...then hit play!

Scene Tools

Brand new Scene Navigator and Scene View tools provide handy ways to view, structure and manage your script without scrolling through a hundred or so pages every time you need to check scene order, or remind yourself exactly when it was your characters fell into that trash compacter… Was it before or after your hero blasted the controls to extend the bridge?

Scene Navigator

Scene view

Scene properties

File Format

A new file XML-based file format improves compatibility with modern productivity software and other script-writing tools.

And more…

Also packed-in to version eight is improved page formatting and counting, workspace management, powerful production features for preparing a finished script for distribution or revision, a neat new toolbar and an apology from Final Draft for selling a copy to Michael Bay. (OK, that last one is a lie. But if you’ve cringed at the dialogue in Tranformers, you know that man owes us all. Big time.)

Just as a professional graphic artist can’t get far without learning Photoshop, anyone who’s serious about screenwriting should have a copy of Final Draft.

  1. Nice overview. I think its worth mentioning Celtx as an alternative, free option. Obviously, if meeting the industry standard is crucial then Final Draft 8 is necessary. If not, Celtx seems to have the same features, and it is really easy to use. I used it for a script I had to write, and I could use it like a pro within 10 minutes of playing around.

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    1. Hi Bob, thanks for your comment.

      Yes, the article’s aim is to provide a brief overview of the dominant screenwriting software in Hollywood, and the established favorite in the industry. And thatis, by a wide *wide* margin, Final Draft. I know there are plenty of alternative cheaper or free writing apps (some of which I use every day) but they’re outside the scope of this article.

      If you can recommend any more, please do comment again, I’d be really interested to see what else is out there.

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  2. I wish this review had compared Final draft with its primary competition, Movie Magic Screenwriter.

    I’m a professional screenwriter, and I switched from FD to MMS a few years ago because I was unhappy with a variety of technical issues I was having with an older version of FD.

    I must correct a couple of statements in this review, however. While Final Draft is the most popular screenwriting software in the industry, Screenwriter is a close second. You will run into a lot of people who use both, and most professionals end up having both on their computers. This review makes it sound like everybody and their brother uses FD, when in fact there are two reasonable choices used in Hollywood.

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    1. Hi Ronaldinho, Thanks for reading. Yes, I’m also a professional in that industry :-)

      In my years of experience, though, I’ve used MMS and found it lacking. Perhaps it has improved recently? I will have to take your advice on that.

      I’ve always found that, on most occasions, fellow writers and producers have assumed they will receive scripts in FD native files. Perhaps that’s just the circles I’ve moved in inside LA and London, I don’t know. But that’s my personal experience.

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  3. I’m going to have to second the comment about celtx. Celtx has a very active developer group and they have been updating pretty regularly. It really has become a viable competitor to FD and Screenwriter and there are professionals who now use it. As a free program, it’s really great for newbies who can’t invest $250 on the other software.

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  4. Writer's Assistant Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Come on guys … can’t you be a little critical? I’m a writer’s assistant on a television series and know a lot of writers and writer’s assistants… and EVERYONE is EXTREMELY disappointed in this release. They still use their own proprietary spell checker that lags like crazy rather than just using the system-wide spell checker. There’s still no way to have it automatically letter your scenes (even though that’s standard industry practice for sit coms and Movie Magic has done it for years). For the number of years they had to improve their software, they really didn’t fix nearly enough. If you’re gonna review Final Draft, please be honest and let people know it’s a drain on the industry.

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    1. Hi Writer’s Assistant, I just recently finished working (for ten years) as an executive in the television and film industry, and never once heard these sorts of complaints about Final Draft.

      Perhaps it’s because I’m based in the UK, where, for reasons that baffle me, ScriptWriter is still fairly dominant (as well as a proprietary app from one of this country’s biggest broadcasters).

      In any case – this article was meant to be a brief overview of FD, not a deeply-detailed critical analysis set against similar applications. Such an article is somewhat beyond the scope of The Apple Blog.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated :-)

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    2. I can share Writer’s Assistant’s take. Also a working screenwriter and TV writer in LA, as well has having been a writer’s assistant. People use Final Draft because they have to. Despite it being buggy as hell, the FD folks are totally resting on their laurels as being the standard. I have been using version 8 and will say it seems more stable to me, but for the money, there really should be more features and customization options. I have tried Celtx and Screenwriter, too, but they paled to FD in many areas. Sadly, we continue to be stuck with a lacking piece of software.

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  5. Ken Burns Effect Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Try Montage, its on third the price of FD!

    Or Storyist wich is half once more, and as others already suggested free Celtx.

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  6. [...] This article first appeared on The Apple Blog. [...]

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  7. I would second the suggestion for Movie Magic Screenwriter. It has worked fantastic for me for years now.

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  8. Not to mention a template comes with Mac-based Pages app. I myself am a big fan of Celtx. It does all I need, minus voices that read back lines to you. I personally see no justification for using FD or MMS paying hundreds of dollars.

    This is similar to having a really expensive DSLR and sucking at taking photos. Doesn’t matter what you write with if you write well. I wouldn’t compare working on FD with graphic designers and Photoshop though.

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  9. Do FD and Movie Magic run on Mac as well as PC? Can the install be transferred from a PC to MAC? Thanks.

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  10. I have been using FD7 since 06. It had it’s problems, no question about it. You can read reviews from a boat load of unhappy customers floating all over the web. Collaborator wouldn’t work and worst of all, the Tagger would not allow script revisions imports without wiping out many of the previous Tagged elements. If you don’t produce, you probably would never need the Tagger so you would never know it didn’t work.

    FD8 is buggy. They got the Tagger working properly but no two ways about it… Final Draft 8 is a pain in the butt. It lags, when you import a fdr file it screws up some of the import, the PDF file won’t save the title page and if you delete an ending dialogue line, the delete will suck the following Action line into the deleted dialogue field.

    Sure, FD8 has a few more unneeded bells and whistles but WTF… it still doesn’t flawlessly perform the basic task it was designed for. You guys who claim FD8 is great must not spend much time using it or you promote it because you sell it. I would not recommend anyone with FD7 upgrading to FD8 unless you need a working Tagger. In my opinion, the only reason there is a FD8 is to generate sales. They only want our money. Every version of Final Draft has been filled with bugs. Each new version comes with new bugs. If software developers like Final Draft had to provide a product that works as advertised or refund the purchase price they would go broke.

    Steve Hill – United Filmways

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