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, thereâ€™s always been theÂ caveat that for whatever reason (which weâ€™ll get to), and depending on what level of production youâ€™reÂ workingÂ 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 wasnâ€™t reallyÂ 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 theÂ older, less ideal format to finish up.
Yeah. Well. You donâ€™t have to do that anymore.
Recently Iâ€™ve been talking to people. A lot of people. Some ofÂ whom are writers and/or directors going into production on some highly (like, highly) anticipated moviesÂ â€” and others who are crew members on those same movies (andÂ some very well-regarded television shows) who are responsible for managing the scripts through production, as well as studios and production companiesÂ 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 wasÂ the “industry standard” into wider acceptance of that claim, something that gave it a marketing victoryÂ over alternatives like Movie Magic ScreenwriterÂ â€”Â which was not all that long ago considered Final Draft’s peer in the world of professional screenwriting software. Itâ€™s a wider acceptance that has been echoed even by people in the industry who never actually touch Final Draft themselves, but itâ€™s also one that at least now seems to be in noticeable decline.
Which makes now not a badÂ time to dispel someâ€¦misconceptions.
Everyone uses Final Draft.Â This is one that people in the industry â€” particularly people who arenâ€™t themselves writers â€” take pretty much for granted. â€œWell, what are you gonna do?â€ they shrug. â€œEveryone else uses it, so thatâ€™s what it makes senseÂ to use.â€ Exceptâ€¦thatâ€™s just not true. Everyone doesnâ€™t use it. In fact chances are fairly good that if youâ€™re reading this, you might notÂ 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 productionÂ 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.Â 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 significantlyÂ between versions or even depending on what printer is connected;Â (b) â€œproperâ€ screenplay format is something other software can easily do;Â and (c) those who actually work on produced projects can testify that the page-a-minute rule is, at best, a very general guideline â€” there is no mythical, golden prototypeÂ 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 doesnâ€™t even do that.Â So honestly, in all seriousness, the industry standard what? If what constitutes the Final Draft â€œstandardâ€ changes depending on what version of the program you have or what printer you’ve got hooked up, then thatâ€™s not much of a standard. Final Draft is necessary for our workflow.Â Okay, well, hereâ€™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 DraftÂ document is imported into Movie Magic Scheduling and MovieÂ Magic Budgeting â€” which is a basic transfer of scene headings and character names and page lengths to save on typing. ThenÂ production revisions are made to the screenplay. TheÂ revised scriptÂ is delivered to the studio/production company. The revisions are thenâ€¦manually entered into the schedule and budget documents, with whoever’s doing it making sure that everything matches up. Because in 2015 there is stillÂ 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 designersÂ 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 â€œnecessaryâ€ in the workflow is the slight labor savings in the initial scheduling/budgeting import â€” something thatâ€™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 â€” and, ideally, far beyond â€” Iâ€™m all ears. Because Iâ€™mÂ thisclose to developing my own modernÂ scheduling and budgeting tools.
Now, of courseÂ 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 stillÂ 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 thingsÂ work better forÂ 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…”Â When people find out there’s a better way of doing things, they’reÂ very interested to find out more.
So send them my way.
- To save both trees and photocopying/messenger in costs, these days screenplays are almost always sent around as PDF. ↩