It’s bizarre to think that scripts used to be written by hand and formatted on simple lined paper. Nowadays, budding dramatists have it a lot easier, with the best screenwriting software providing everything they need to plan, write, edit and share their masterpiece on their desktop computer, laptop or smart device.
The biggest name in screenwriting software is undoubtedly Final Draft. Launched in 1990 by movie fans Marc Madnick and Ben Cahan, it wasn't the first computer-based tool for scribes (that accolade goes to Screenplay Systems' Scriptor package), but it has certainly become the most popular. According to the Final Draft website, the software is now used by 95% of film and television productions.
In this review, we'll be focusing on the most up-to-date iteration of this franchise, Final Draft 12. Released on 12 April 2021, it comes with dozens of new or improved features that are designed to boost a scriptwriter's creativity and make their job easier.
Final Draft 12 review: Best features
Legendary film director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, The Elephant Man) described Final Draft as “the best screenwriting software there is” – which isn't a bad endorsement coming from someone who's been nominated for multiple Academy Awards.
Put simply, this software will make it a lot easier for you to construct a script that meets industry standards. Using Final Draft's intuitive drop-down menus, you can quickly and easily format each element of your script to give it a professional sheen and get it ready for submission.
Final Draft also comes with a suite of features to help you develop your plot and characters. Principal among these are the Beat Board and Story Map. For the uninitiated, a 'beat' in a script is an incident that propels the story forward. Maybe it's the moment when the two main characters first set eyes on each other, or when the little boy opens his laundry basket and discovers a portal to another galaxy (we're improvising here). However many beats you want in your story, you can use the Beat Board as a kind of fluid scrapbook for your ideas. Photos, sketches, chunks of text... they can all be dragged, dropped, moved around and edited as your creative juices flow and your concepts develop.
Once each beat has been created, you can colour-code it and then insert an icon of the same colour into something called a Story Map, which is kind of a basic linear overview of your script that runs along the top of the page. Easy to re-arrange, it helps you to keep tabs of when everything takes place within your narrative. (Note that clicking on an icon instantly brings up a window containing that particular beat, so that you don't have to keep referring back to your Beat Board.)
Writing a script can be a collaborative process – and one of the key benefits of Final Draft is that it enables you to work alongside multiple other people, from anywhere in the world, in real time. Simply hit the Collaboration button, invite your buddies and then, once they've accepted, you'll all be able to chip in with edits, and engage in text chat while doing so. Be aware, though, that you'll all need to have the same version of Final Draft for this feature to work.
Final Draft 12 review: What’s new
Final Draft 12 comes with over 40 new or improved features. Many of these are subtle amendments that aren't headline-worthy in their own right but will nevertheless help to make your working process more efficient – things like being able to sort your characters based on the number of dialogues they have; spell-check the items on your Beat Board; and zoom into your documents in one-eighth increments.
However, some of the new features could make a huge difference to the way you work. There's now something called an Outline Editor, which is like a more customizable version of the aforementioned Story Map. Got a PDF of a script that you want to work on in Final Draft? In this latest iteration, you can not only import it, but the software will automatically format it to meet industry requirements.
Focus Mode is ideal for those times when you really need to concentrate on what you're doing, hiding any background features so that your script is the only thing on display. For the first time, screenwriters can collaborate on Beat Boards as well as the scripts themselves. And speaking of collaboration, there's also now a tracked changes feature, enabling you to view and accept / decline amends made by your writing partners.
Final Draft 12 review: Ease of use
This software's entire raison d'être is to facilitate your screenwriting, so it would kind of defeat the purpose if it was hard to get your head around (and besides, coming up with a winning script is challenging enough without having to worry about over-complicated functionality).
Final Draft 12 is a dream to use. Once you've signed up – paid or trial – and received your activation code, the downloading / installation process takes just a few minutes and then you're good to go (note that Apple users will need macOS 10.14 Mojave or higher, while those working on a PC will require an Intel or AMD processor).
After you've picked your template (you can choose from a film script, TV show, graphic novel or plain text document), all of the required formatting can be achieved using the intuitive drop-down menus. Simply select an option from the list (say you want to write an action line or a character name), and the software will automatically place the cursor in the correct place on your page, ready for you to start typing in exactly the right weight and font. If you're new to screenwriting, it can take a bit of time to master all the lingo, but once you're up to speed you'll be churning out lines like a Tinseltown stalwart.
Final Draft 12 review: Cost
If you're new to Final Draft, then you'll need to pay the full price for this software (available as a digital download). Technically, this is $249.99, though the official Final Draft website is currently offering it at the discounted rate of $199.99. If you're unsure about whether to make a purchase, you can sign up for a free 60-day trial to see if you like the software before committing. Unlike some free trials, this one will not automatically charge you once the period is up – your membership will merely go into Reader mode, meaning you'll be able to open and view your work but not edit or save it.
Got an older version of Final Draft and want to upgrade to the latest one? The good news is that you won't need to pay the full price again. An upgrade costs just $79.99 at the moment (down from $99.99) – and don't worry if your original version is no longer installed on your computer, as that price will buy you a full installation of Final Draft 12.
The people behind Final Draft have generously made the latest version of their software available to students, teachers, military personnel and first responders for a discounted fee. And there are also special deals available for those wishing to buy in bulk – for example, employers or schools.
How does the cost of Final Draft 12 compare with other brands? Well, if you're a first-time buyer, then it's certainly one of the more expensive pieces of screenwriting software. Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 currently costs $124.95 (down from $249.95), Fade In 4.0.6 is $79.95 (down from $99.95) and WriterDuet 6 costs from $5 for a monthly subscription.
Note that Final Draft 12 is not available for tablet or smartphone, but there is something called Final Draft Mobile, which is a stripped-down version of the full package for iPad and iPhone. This costs $9.99.
Should you buy Final Draft 12?
There are several good reasons why the Final Draft franchise is so popular among Hollywood screenwriters – it's feature-packed, flexible and tailor-made for collaboration. Pair it with some of the best video editing software and you'll be well on your way to having most of the tools you need to start creating shorts.
However, it's also pretty expensive, and while it's probably worth every cent, if you're only planning to do a bit of scriptwriting as a hobby and have no intention of using some of the more advanced features, you might want to go with one of the cheaper brands of software.
Of course, you could always try to knock out your masterpiece within the six-week trial period, and then it wouldn't cost you anything.