Low-Budget to Hollywood Luxe: The 7 Best Screenwriting Tools for Filmmakers

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As a screenwriter, you want to spend most of your time writing and less time worrying about typeface and line spacing.

“It’s just simpler to write dialogue when you can type quickly and get a flow of conversation going with the characters,” says screenwriter Schuyler Brumley. “If you aren’t familiar with the software, it can ruin the flow. Like Xbox versus PlayStation.” Brumley exclusively uses Final Draft, but you’ll eventually create a shorthand with whatever program you use.

With all the software and apps available, we could spend our whole lives hunting down the perfect tool for your screenwriting projects.

But don’t worry: We’ve rounded up the most popular screenwriting tools for every budget to help you write your next Oscar winner. Or at least finally finish that script you’ve been working on.

1. Final Draft

Considered the industry standard, Final Draft is used by heavy-hitters like James Cameron, J.J. Abrams and Matthew Weiner. It’s the number-one selling screenwriting software in the world, available for Windows, Mac and iPad.

You can create screenplays, stage plays, teleplays and use one of their 100 templates to help you format them. The software even provides glimpses into how shows like Mad Men and How I Met Your Mother are formatted. Basically, name a feature — Final Draft has it.

But it’s also the most expensive screenwriting software available, and since it’s been around for a long time, it’s considered a bit of a dinosaur. Amazon reviews called out the latest update as slow and buggy. The tool is still playing catch-up when it comes to cloud storage and online collaboration, so just because it’s the industry standard doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you.

Cost: $249.99

2. Movie Magic Screenwriter

Movie Magic is almost as respected as Final Draft, but not quite. It is, however, the official screenwriting software of the Writers Guild of America East.

Like almost every tool available, Movie Magic will automatically format your script to industry standards. But you can quickly change the layout of the interface so you have as many or few distractions as you want.

Unlike Final Draft, you can collaborate with other writers online in real time using iPartner.

Cost: $249.95

3. Celtx

If you’re more of a casual screenwriter, Celtx is a popular option without the Final Draft price tag.

Celtx features are pared down, sure, but their free version offers formatting for screenplays, storyboards, catalogs and more. The paid versions also work in tandem with its mobile apps so you can work offline and on-the-go.

Web-based Celtx Edge uses a collaborative model which allows an entire production team or scriptwriting class to collaborate on a project via browser. Celtx also includes the ability to change formats, so if you’re writing a stage play that you suddenly realize would be great as a short film, Celtx can easily convert between formats.  

Cost: Free, with upgrades available for maximum of $19.99 per month

4. WriterDuet

WriterDuet’s motto is “You don’t need to spend $200 just to fit in” and the company’s features prove it values script content over formatting.

For example, WriterDuet has a neat feature to help shorten your script by automatically searching for places where you can cut a few lines. Same thing for error-checking: The software finds incorrect formatting, typos, characters with similar names and more.

You can even analyze your script by reviewing statistics on action versus dialogue, density and how characters speak.

WriterDuet has cloud storage with the ability to save to Dropbox, Drive and your hard drive with additional automatic backups.

Cost: Varies. Free version available with ability to upgrade to the $99 Pro version. Student pricing available.

5. Scrivener

If you’re not just a screenwriter and work on everything from novels to screenplays to articles to fiction, Scrivener’s your best bet.

The popular tool offers formatting options for all of the above, but with the added bonus of being able to visualize scenes that need to be grouped together. Scrivener’s corkboard feature allows you to make sense of all your notes and scenes — almost like creating a storyboard.

If you plan to take your script through filming, Scrivener falls short for long-term use. While great for character development, research and structure, it’s not compatible with the software producers and directors use to actually turn a script into a movie. You’ll need to convert your screenplay into another format, making it sluggish for last-minute rewrites.  

Cost: $45 for Mac, $40 for Windows

6. Fade In

Billed as “More than just your final draft,” Fade In offers the powerful tools screenwriters expect without a lot of the extra fluff that makes programs like Final Draft slow to learn and use.

Like the end credits of a movie, Fade In’s interface is primarily black and white, which is easier on our exhausted writer’s eyes. It also saves your files as plain text, meaning you can open and edit in different applications, or import and export files from Final Draft, Movie Magic and other programs. Fade In is the most compatible and user-friendly of them all.

Fade In also offers robust organization (color-coding, index cards and marking significant sequences), a Dialogue Tuner (to see and edit a single character’s dialogue all in one place) and report downloads (scenes, cast, locations, and more).

Cost: $49.95

7. Amazon Storywriter

Amazon’s new tool is bare-bones, but free, which makes it great for students, beginners or artists on a budget. The app, which does everything from autoformatting to PDF exporting, can be used both on the site or via Chrome app.

One of Storywriter’s unique selling points is that you can submit your script directly to Amazon Studios for production consideration. But its submission agreement includes a “similar content” clause which essentially says, “We produce a lot of stuff, it might be coincidentally similar to something you submitted, so if you see an Amazon show that sounds similar, too bad.”

So be careful, as this does give them leeway to use aspects from submitted scripts without giving credit.

Cost: Free

In a cutthroat industry that will quite literally throw away your screenplay if it doesn’t have the right margins, you’ll want a program to take care all aspects of your project.

So whether you’re a writer’s-room regular or a student working solo, find the tool that makes the most sense for you, learn it well, and stick with it!

Are you a screenwriter? Which tools do you find most useful?

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Marian Schembari is a writer, storyteller and brainstorm partner based in Germany, who left her heart in San Francisco, New Zealand, London and New York. Part of her heart belongs to the internet, too. Marian believes in the internet’s power to invite a real, deep look into our... .

Marian Schembari | @MarianSchembari

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Comments

  1. Hey, cool. I haven’t seen a good list of resources for filmmakers before; I’ll have to pass it on to some of my screenwriter friends.

    A couple of these are good for us regular old fiction writers as well 🙂

  2. Ian Bailey says:

    Celtx was an impressive tool before they ruined it. Now it’s ruined: a shadow of the useful tool it used to be.

  3. CeltX all the way. I’ve been told to use Final Draft, but then I look mournfully at the price and I hear my bank account wagging its finger at me.

    We’re writers. Do software developers who put out their product for hundreds of $$$ not see the connection?

  4. Best article in this post its very helpful for me thanks to share this post.

  5. Newton Fall says:

    Celtx desktop 2.9.7 is still available, though not from celtx.com. It offers everything the paid web based version does and, contrary to what the company says on its website, it is very stable and doesn’t need updating.
    The desktop version is open source and the source code is also available if programmers want to make some improvements over it.

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