IntroductionWhen writing for the stage, screen or radio, formatting work using a standard word-processor can be a pain. That’s because each of these disciplines has its own formatting standards. If you want your work taken seriously, it makes sense to adhere to these standards. Character names, scene headings, action elements and transitions each have their own place on the page, adding hours to the time needed to turn in a completed script. It is of little surprise, therefore, that specific software has been around for some time, which aims to make these formatting headaches disappear. Screenwriting software paginates and formats work as you go along, hopefully allowing you to concentrate on the creative side of the writing, and not the academic.
The two biggest players in this arena are Final Draft and Screenwriter 2000. The latest releases of both these products are Mac OS X native. Until a few months ago, the choice for OS X users was much simpler. Final Draft did not have an OS X version, making Screenwriter 2000 the winner by default. This issue has been rectified in Final Draft 6.
Features common to both programs include automatic character and scene completion. This saves typing the full character name and scene location each time a character has dialogue or when returning to a location. Each press of a letter key narrows the choice within the pop-up box, allowing the selection of the appropriate choice with the return key.
A common practice when writing screenplays is the use of index cards. Each card (usually around A6 size) contains a brief summary of each scene. The cards are then used to organize the structure of a screenplay and experiment with differing scene orders. The index-card feature of these programs automatically creates these cards for you from a screenplay. You can then either print them out to use manually, or use the on-screen index-card navigator to drag a scene to a different point in the script. Our shipped version of Screenwriter 2000 (release 4.5.3) crashed when printing index cards in OS X, but this problem was solved when the program was updated to the latest release (4.6.4) via the Web.
If you are writing as part of a team, both products allow you to work on a script online. A chat box is provided within the program, enabling the discussion of the project as you work.
The inclusion of Voice reading on both programs seems to have little practical use beyond a gimmick. Voices can be assigned to each character, allowing the script to be read back by the computer. However, the results are hilarious, sounding more like Metal Mickey versus Tweeky, than a professional script read through. It’s hard to imagine any script being changed on the basis of these binary-powered performances.
Also common to both systems is the ability to format a script almost completely using just the tab and return keys. However, in practice this feature works better in Screenwriter 2000. The problem in Final Draft is that as you work from a piece of action to a character name, you must first press return to get to the next line, and then press TAB to jump to a character heading. In Screenwriter, a single press of the TAB key from the action section moves the cusor to exactly the same point. However, in Final Draft’s favour is a window at the bottom left of the screen that states the effect of pressing tab and return from where the cursor is positioned. This addition is missing from Screenwriter 2000.
The interface of both products is very similar and the feature set between the latest versions of each program is now nearly identical. Both can place notes on the script, produce cast breakdowns and reports, export to PDF, create bookmarks, and handle script revisions and locking. The feature differences, therefore, are slim.
When two programs are so alike, minor irritations are worth noting. Screenwriter 2000 didn’t work with my Microsoft wheel mouse, meaning it was necessary to use the scroll bar to navigate through a script. This can be a major pain, especially when the average script spans 120 pages. Final Draft on the other hand doesn’t automatically open the script you’re working on when you start the program. Having become accustomed to this feature with Screenwriter 2000, it seems a foolish omission, requiring a trawl through the menu system to open a script in Final Draft.