We chose to focus our screenwriter software lineup on programs that provide a mix of writing features, production assistance and strong community support. Many different scene types may occur in your movie, so versatile software with a high level of support is key. Proper formatting is essential, as producers, agents and contest judges may simply throw away a screenplay that isn’t uniform. For this reason, we forgo free software you can find online. Here’s what we found:
Best Screenwriting Software for Beginners: Celtx
You may have a great idea for a movie script, but proper formatting of a screenplay is daunting. The margs and spacing have to be uniform to separate scenes that require action shots and indialogue. The headers also have to signify the location and time of day for the shoot. If you’re a student or just beginning your first screenplay, getting a readable plot together is hard enough without having to worry about putting it on the page in the proper format.
Celtx is the best screenwriter software for beginners. The program provides automatic formatting as you write and saves your characters. For more complex direction, the menu includes tutorials that guide you through writing your scenes. Celtx also includes an index card view, which reminds you of important points in your screenplay and character attributes.
If you plan to produce your own screenplay, you’ll be pleased to find that Celtx has production tools built into it. You have a great number of script breakdown and reporting tools that are useful for film and video production. It also includes scheduling and budgeting features as well the ability to make shot lists and storyboards.
Read our full review here: Celtx
- Pro: Celtx Plus offers all the tools you need to take you from the beginning of the screenwriting process all the way through preproduction and into filming without having to purchase any additional software.
- Con: It hasn’t found widespread usage among the professional community like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. So, screenplays may have to be rewritten with those programs if a big studio buys the project.
Best Screenwriting Software for Working Screenwriters: Final Draft
There are many important jobs that require screenwriter programs. Beyond writing movies, these programs are useful for directors, writer’s assistants, playwrights and even marketers creating a video to sell a product. If you plan to use screenwriting software for your work, you should consider a program that provides versatile tools to make your job easier.
Final Draft is the most widely used screenwriting software for a number of reasons. In fact, FDX, the universal format for screenplays, is a proprietary format created by Final Draft. In addition to their formatting, Final Draft is made for working writers. The software comes with the ability for you to collaborate. This means that more than one writer can work on the screenplay at the same time. This is essential for a large production that requires several eyes on the same script. Final Draft also tracks all the revisions that occur over time.
So, if a line has changed, you can search the history and find out who made the change and why. More importantly, it keeps the previous line. Dialogue may look good on paper, but it may not work in front of the camera. Final Draft logs the way the line was written before for quick reference.
Read our full review here: Final Draft
- Pro: Its document format is compatible with nearly all production software, which makes for an easy transition when it comes time to begin filming.
- Con: The software is not backwards compatible. You cannot open files that were not created with the most recent version of Final Draft.
Best Screenwriting Software for Writer’s Block: Movie Magic Screenwriter
Some of the best screenwriting programs can guide you from the first page to the last.
Movie Magic Screenwriter is a program that understands your voyage. Note tools allow you to jot down distracting ideas that pop in your head, and an outline view helps you keep track of characters and scenes. For example, you can use a filter to isolate a character to remind yourself what they were doing five scenes ago. When you’ve been writing a long time, details get cloudy. Movie Magic Screenwriter can also color-code scenes, characters and actions. You can filter by a color and look at characters from a certain family or group.
Movie Magic screenwriting software comes with plenty of templates with a variety of formats for screenplays, television scripts and even novels, to ensure that your spec script for a sitcom will be formatted correctly.
Read our full review: Movie Magic Screenwriter
- Pro: This screenwriting software is officially endorsed by the WGA and has some great collaborative tools.
- Con: Its NaviDoc feature can become a bit overwhelming as the number of scenes grows.
In addition to researching and using each screenwriting program we reviewed, we also reached out to professionals who use screenwriting software everyday.
Richard Dutcher is an independent film director who has produced eight feature films and written dozens of screenplays. We asked him which screenwriting software he uses and why.
“I use both Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, depends on which job I’m doing and if they have a preference. If it’s my own choice, I use Movie Magic Screenwriter,” Dutcher said. He explained that he started screenwriting in the late '90s and learned on the program Script Thing, which was later acquired by Movie Magic. “I just stuck to it because it was what I was used to,” Dutcher said.
We asked him about Celtx, Fade-in and Slugline as alternatives to the industry standard applications like Final Draft and Movie Magic. “I found I had to do too much tailoring in them. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do easily, and I don’t like to think about the formatting. I just like to sit down and write,” Dutcher said. “I found it to be too much distraction and time consuming to make the format to be what I consider professional formats. Otherwise, somebody has to convert it, and it never converts perfectly.”
Dutcher said, “To me, if you are a professional screenwriter or want to be a professional screenwriter, you definitely have to be using professional software. Even if you’re just at home pounding something out for a screenplay competition or you hope maybe to get in a producer, it shouts ‘amateur screenwriter’ if you're not using a professional software program.”
The Importance of Outlining Your Script
Outlines are vital for all writers, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional. Trying to write a full-length screenplay without an outline is like trying to navigate a ship without a map and compass. If you know where your story is going, your ability to reach that destination is much smoother.
The best screenwriter software understands the value of outlines. The notecards should be intuitive and easy to find. Before you begin writing the first line of dialogue, you should outline every scene from start to finish with a logline, the motivation of the characters in the scene and why the scene is useful for moving the plot. Color coding and scene breakdowns are valuable for production as well. A good program will isolate specific locations so that the cinematographer and director can shoot multiple scenes that aren’t necessarily in chronological order.
Other Valuable Features of Screenwriting Software
For more advanced production, there are many other tools that improve the process of bringing your words to life. Script breakdown tools allow you to highlight specific items on the page. Props, for example, could be highlighted in one color so a prop supervisor can easily find them. In-depth reports let crew members know about location changes and scheduling conflicts.
Another great resource is an active online community. As you write, questions will come up. How do you write a montage? What if two people are talking at the same time? How do you set up the page if you're constantly jumping in and out of two scenes? A vibrant community online can answer all these questions, whether it’s on the manufacturer's website or a third-party forum. The more you feel like part of a group, the better chance you have of finishing your script.