The state of the screenwriting software art: 2012 edition

January 23rd, 2012 | by | screenwriting


Not quite twelve months ago I wrote about finally giving up, once and for all, on Final Draft as a tool for screenwriting. I also wrote about what were, for me, the shortcomings of any potential alternatives.

Now, almost a year later, it’s interesting to see how much — or how little — has changed.

The most significant thing that happened in 2011, although I may be slightly biased, was the release of Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software: a complete screenwriting application designed not to match expensive legacy software like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter in terms of features, usability, and functionality, but to unequivocally surpass them. Fade In does all the formatting, revision management, page and scene locking, and more that a professional screenwriter needs. It imports and exports Final Draft and other formats easily. It’s available on an unmatched range of platforms, including Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, iPhone/iPad, and Android. And it does it all for a fraction of the price of the older alternatives.

Another significant thing was the introduction of Screenplay Markdown (SPMD), a plaintext screenplay formatting proposal by Stu Maschwitz. The really useful thing about it is that it describes a set of relatively simple rules for formatting a screenplay using only a basic text editor. An SPMD-aware program can then take that script and output a screenplay that looks like it was created with a full-featured screenwriting application. It’s a very appealing workflow for screenwriting on a phone or tablet, and Fade In has supported it ever since it was introduced. Stu has said that there are some big things in store for SPMD, so keep an eye out for those.

Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter both offered minor updates last year to address the fact that they wouldn’t install and run properly on Mac OS X Lion. It seems like they were caught off-guard by Apple’s release and had to rush to address the realization by users that their aging software wouldn’t run on their new operating system. As far as I know — although I left them both behind a long time ago — the updates didn’t otherwise specifically address issues with functionality or features, and at least in MMS’s case, a number of components still don’t work. (Oh: in 2011 one of them did have the dubious distinction of being targeted by hackers, revealing security vulnerabilities in the application.)

Final Draft has been promising an iPad version since 2010. (Coming Spring 2011!) Finally late last year Final Draft Inc. admitted that they were still working on it and that it will be a reader app only, much to the dismay and outrage of its loyal users who appear to feel they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them after waiting for so long for Final Draft editing capabilities on their mobile devices. Sure, it seems like an odd thing to be spending time on when a great Final Draft iPad reader already exists, but this is one area where I can’t imagine what poor Final Draft Inc. can possibly hope to do: The economics of the app market are very different from the economics of the $250-per-copy-of-Final-Draft market, and what people really want is a mobile version of Final Draft that does almost everything the $250 version does, but they want to pay about $4.99 for it, tops. On the other hand, that people might actually still believe Final Draft will do that for them, gutting their core product and its gargantuan profit margin, is an invigorating confirmation of the power of human optimism.

Adobe Story and Celtx both made minor releases in 2011 — Celtx, in fact, updated for the last time on the same day almost a year ago when I raised my concerns with it — but by the looks of it the most either of them managed to do was add dialogue numbering. So I guess for Story and Celtx users, there’s that.

Happy screenwriting in 2012.

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