No, really, you don’t have to use Final Draft anymore

May 13th, 2015 | by | filmmaking, screenwriting

May
13

Ever since I made Fade In, and ever since professional screenwriters discovered it and ever since they’ve started using it and liking it and preferring it, there’s always been the caveat that for whatever reason (which we’ll get to), and depending on what level of production you’re working at, you might have to eventually finish in Final Draft. Because the producer wanted it. Or because the studio said you had to. And it wasn’t really that much of a big deal because Fade In exports niftily to a Final Draft document. But still, the reason people were using Fade In in the first place was because they thought it was better, and it sort of sucked to have to thunk things down to the older, less ideal format to finish up.

Yeah. Well. You don’t have to do that anymore.

Recently I’ve been talking to people. A lot of people. Some of whom are writers and/or directors going into production on some highly (like, highly) anticipated movies — and others who are crew members on those same movies (and some very well-regarded television shows) who are responsible for managing the scripts through production, as well as studios and production companies whose concerns revolve around taking those words on a page and adding millions upon millions of dollars to them to get them on film.

Final Draft’s greatest achievement has been a marketing one: cultivating the company’s own claim that it was the “industry standard” into wider acceptance of that claim, something that gave it a marketing victory over alternatives like Movie Magic Screenwriter — which was not all that long ago considered Final Draft’s peer in the world of professional screenwriting software. It’s a wider acceptance that has been echoed even by people in the industry who never actually touch Final Draft themselves, but it’s also one that at least now seems to be in noticeable decline.

Which makes now not a bad time to dispel some…misconceptions.

Everyone uses Final Draft. This is one that people in the industry — particularly people who aren’t themselves writers — take pretty much for granted. “Well, what are you gonna do?” they shrug. “Everyone else uses it, so that’s what it makes sense to use.” Except…that’s just not true. Everyone doesn’t use it. In fact chances are fairly good that if you’re reading this, you might not use it, either. I did a quick back-of-the-envelope estimation a while back and came up with several hundred million dollars worth of film and TV production now in prep or production using Fade In. Add development to that and I’m pretty sure there is something currently in the works at every major studio.

Final Draft is the industry standard. The industry standard what? The industry standard document format? No, that’s PDF1. The industry standard page layout/metrics? Final Draft’s pagination battle cry rings a little hollow when (a) Final Draft’s pagination can vary significantly between versions or even depending on what printer is connected; (b) “proper” screenplay format is something other software can easily do; and (c) those who actually work on produced projects can testify that the page-a-minute rule is, at best, a very general guideline — there is no mythical, golden prototype of the perfect one-minute screenplay page. And as for respecting the actual industry standard, i.e., the one that goes back decades and uses a 10-pitch typewriter? Final Draft doesn’t even do that. So honestly, in all seriousness, the industry standard what? If what constitutes the Final Draft “standard” changes depending on what version of the program you have or what printer you’ve got hooked up, then that’s not much of a standard.

Final Draft is necessary for our workflow. Okay, well, here’s what normally happens. A script is finally locked and ready for breakdown. A Final Draft document is delivered to the studio/production company. That Final Draft document is imported into Movie Magic Scheduling and Movie Magic Budgeting — which is a basic transfer of scene headings and character names and page lengths to save on typing. Then production revisions are made to the screenplay. The revised script is delivered to the studio/production company. The revisions are then…manually entered into the schedule and budget documents, with whoever’s doing it making sure that everything matches up. Because in 2015 there is still no way to have any sort of smart syncing between them: every change has to be manually rippled through the workflow. And the tools and workarounds that everyone from story departments to script supervisors to costume designers and property masters have come up with to deal with the current toolset shortcomings are either impressive or dismaying, depending on which way you look at it. So really the only degree to which Final Draft is at all “necessary” in the workflow is the slight labor savings in the initial scheduling/budgeting import — something that’s carefully hand-checked by an AD or production assistant anyway. And if Entertainment Partners wants to talk about getting Fade In support for that initial import — and, ideally, far beyond — I’m all ears. Because I’m thisclose to developing my own modern scheduling and budgeting tools.

Now, of course you knowing all of this won’t change the possibility that your producer or your studio might still tell you that you have to deliver in Final Draft. Mainly because, as I’ve found out, some people still don’t know there’s any alternative. But what I’ve also found is that people want things to work better than they do currently. They need things to work better. And as an industry we’re actually not that far away from some big steps forward to make things work better for everyone. I was in a meeting at a studio recently and there was a palpable sense of excitement and “Oh, this is what’s possible…” When people find out there’s a better way of doing things, they’re very interested to find out more.

So send them my way.


  1. To save both trees and photocopying/messenger in costs, these days screenplays are almost always sent around as PDF.

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