February 29, 2012

Movie Draft Review: Promising (and Affordable) Screenwriting Software with a Bright Future

For screenwriting, I've been a long-time Final Draft user, but I've never been a huge fan. It's like the Microsoft Word of screenwriting software -- ubiquitous and adequate, but not something you're particularly excited about. I've been using it since Version 4, and it has definitely improved since then, but for a $250 program I've never felt that it has evolved as much as I'd like. What am I looking for? More structuring and outlining tools. This is where Movie Draft comes in. Note that it's Mac only available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, it's rated nearly 5 stars in the Mac App Store, and it only costs $30.

Before we look further at Movie Draft, let me explain my issues with Final Draft. Final Draft essentially treats your screenplay like one long manuscript, and I always find myself breaking down a script onto handwritten index cards and spreading them out on a table/floor/bulletin board. Wouldn't it be nice, and make sense, to be able to do this within the program itself? While FD has an Index Card view, it just doesn't work the way my brain does. You have to go into a separate viewing mode, and then you get a confusing two-across view. For a $250 program, I expect more. Also, the built-in dictionary sucks. The program seems to have an elementary-level vocabulary, as polysyllabic words often give you red squiggles, even when they're spelled correctly. Finally, I've never been able to get its collaboration features to work.

Over the past few years I've also experimented with Movie Magic Screenwriter, Scrivener, Mori, Evernote, Storymill, Contour, Adobe Story, Celtx, OneNote -- and some others I can't remember -- in my search for a good outlining/structuring/writing workflow. Ultimately I've found that my preffered approach to writing an outline -- and first draft -- is good old-fashioned pen and paper. With non-erasable ink and pages that fill up, I find writing by hand gives me more momentum to get through the first draft without doing too much editing as I'm writing. There's only one direction to go: forward. And when I need to make structural changes, I can always draw arrows, boxes, circles, and whatever other diagrams I need to help myself along the way. Perhaps in the future touchscreens (and styli) will give us this freedom, but for now I still prefer pen and ink.

However, once you move into the revision stage, software becomes a necessity. I like to write on the road or in isolated places, away from the internet and other distractions, and you can't take a table full of index cards with you. Thus I found myself needing an outlining/structuring tool that offered better tools than Final Draft's index card view. I used Scrivener for a little while and while it seems like a great tool for novelists, for screenwriters I found its extensive control panels, options, and views to be overkill (and more than a little bit confusing). For me, the software didn't disappear and become second nature, even after doing a couple drafts of my outline.

Movie Draft's main selling point is its modularity. You treat individual scenes as they should be, in my mind -- as individual building blocks you can move around and edit individually, instead of as pages out of one long continuous manuscript. In the view above, you can see that the index card view works right alongside the script itself. This makes sense to me.

Here's a look at some of Movie Draft's features. I've shared this video in the past, back when I was considering the software but before I'd had a chance to actually use it. It's a nice overview of the program from its developer, Mark:

I love the modularity, the outlining tools, and the full screen view -- and did I mention the modularity? It works much better than Final Draft. There's a sidebar, and you drag scenes non-linearly. You can treat a scene as its own document with just a click, ignoring the rest of the screenplay. There are several viewing modes. You can set it to use the same keystrokes for writing as Final Draft (or Movie Magic Screenwriter). On a fundamental level, I like it a lot. Here's a view without the index cards, but that still allows drag-and-drop restructuring:

However, after using it for my current draft of Man-child, here are some issues I've found that had me eventually going back to Final Draft:

The font. Final Draft used to utilize a terribly thin, tough-on-the eyes Courier font, until version 8 when they finally switched to a much more pleasing version of Courier that is thicker and smoother -- both on screen and on the printed page. This should be a simple fix for Movie Draft, but the fact is, for me it's a major issue for now -- you're staring at your screen for hundreds of hours when writing a feature script. At no zoom level did I feel Movie Draft's Courier font was pleasing. I used to be a graphic designer, so I'm probably more sensitive than most, but I'm not the only one who cares about screenplay fonts. Movie Draft does offer a few different "page styles," which allow you to change the background colors and other elements, but does not offer (as far as I could tell) any font customization. This is fine -- I like the simplicity of the program, and scripts should always be in Courier -- but the default font in Movie Draft needs to eat a cheeseburger and put on some weight (note that just because the stems of a font are thicker, it does not mean words should take up more space on the page or affect overall script length).

Importation. In my testing, Movie Draft did an admirable job of importing several different formats. However, one feature of Final Draft I use is capitalizing words programmatically instead of using Caps Lock or Shift -- that is, with Control/Command-K you can capitalize an entire word or sentence at once. This saves time down the road if you decide that it shouldn't be emphasized -- you don't have to retype the entire sentence with caps lock off. However, if you've used this approach, Movie Draft does not recognize these capitals when importing a .fdx. I found that exporting the script as a Plain Text with Formatting (.txt) from FDR yielded correct capitalization within Movie Draft, but using that (more limited) format, any action sentence that started with capitalized words was misinterpretd as dialogue. As such, you might have quirks when importing a script from another program.

What does this mean? For Man-child, which I've already been working on for a year and for which I need to get out a new draft before Tribeca -- it doesn't make sense to switch horses mid-stream.

I will forward these thoughts onto Mark, Movie Draft's developer, and if he implements these fixes I plan on utilizing the software for my next script. Movie Draft's modularity gives screenwriters powerful structuring tools without being confusing, the $30 price ("for a limited time," though it's been that way for a while now) is a bargain, and the program looks to have a bright future.

Link: Movie Draft, Movie Draft (iTunes App Store)

Your Comment

25 Comments

Wow take the best of Movie Magic and Final Draft but what do we call it? Hmmmm...Looks great! Thanks for posting this - I'd never heard of the program. $30 is a great deal and will try it out on the screenplay I'm starting.

February 29, 2012

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Lance B

Great review, Koo. I downloaded Movie Draft right after reading your original article about it and have been using it ever since. I've always been too cheap to buy any other real screenwriting program, so I can't really compare - but it's definitely easy to use and I love having the ability to easily locate & rearrange scenes and sequences using the sidebar...and you can't beat that price!

February 29, 2012

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Does it offer any tools for viewing and editing dialogue for specific characters? Celtx has a dialogue report that showcases all dialogue for any number of characters...but you can't perform edits. I have to jump back in the script editor and find the scene in order to edit. Annoying.

February 29, 2012

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Bill C

I've used Movie Magic for years, but it hasn't been updated in several years and several bugs exist. I've contacted the them about it and they have no current plans to update. I tried Final Draft, but couldn't really justify the cost. I really wanted to like Scrivener, but I also found it overwhelming. I tried to support Celtx, but I really don't like how they handle the file system.

I downloaded the demo of Movie Draft and what I love is it's simplicity. I actually like the color coding and scene structure. I would like the option to change colors and create my own themes. I'd also like to see templates for comics and TV scripts. I also wonder if they are working on an iPad version.

Great post Koo.

February 29, 2012

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I actually bought it the day you showed interest on the program. And I was easily able to write a FEATURE LENGTH script in a week! I love that it includes index cards with scene descriptions. I just transfer my index cards to the program. It's awesome. This program should be way more considering other screenwriting apps for the price break down and can't print. This program deserves so much more respect!

February 29, 2012

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Julian

This looks like quite a nice 'no-BS' screenwriting application. I wonder if it will (or if it does already) support Fountain (http://fountain.io/).

March 1, 2012

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Well I went and asked Mark directly on the subject and here's his answer:

"Not currently but there is a feature request in place for it:

http://www.moviedraft.com/us/forum/support-for-fountain-format/

It's high on my list."

March 1, 2012

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Interesting app. I've never heard of it until now but will definitely check it out. Another solution that I've found kicks Final Draft's butt is Montage - https://www.marinersoftware.com/products/montage/

It's Mac only but I've written a few scripts with it and it has worked wonderfully.

Mark

March 1, 2012

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mark maddson

Koo, if you like writing out by hand as I do, you might want to check out the Livescribe smart pen that lets you upload your handwritten notes to your computer and with a 30 dollar add on adds pretty good transcription software. If you have good handwriting it is actually pretty good, but if you don't you will spend a lot of time editing. I have used most of the programs you mentioned and Scrivener I really wanted to love but was just too obtrusive. So I have been using this pen and hoping that there the handwriting recognition on iOS makes a jump especially with the new Jot stylus coming out soon.

March 1, 2012

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James T

I did take a look at Livescribe... my handwriting is pretty terrible though. I've been thinking the same thing about iOS and the iPad 3...

March 3, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Here are a couple more new(?) screenwriting programs that I found recently, to add to your list at the beginning of this review, and perhaps for future comparison:

http://www.fadeinpro.com/ - commercial, $50.
http://www.trelby.org/ - open source (GPL), free.

March 2, 2012

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Shenan

Hi All,

Mark here, Movie Draft's creator. Firstly, thanks Ryan for the great review! Secondly, thanks to everyone's support who have already bought a copy of Movie Draft. I appreciate it. Lastly, if any of you have any things you'd like seen in a future version of Movie Draft, please do feel free to submit a feature request on my website: http://www.moviedraft.com/us/forum/feature-request/

I am in constant active development of Movie Draft (it's what I do for a living, it's not a hobby) so your input can actually directly shape Movie Draft's future.

Please also feel free to contact me off-list if you need any help:

http://www.moviedraft.com/us/forum/root/1/view-user/209378/

or...

http://www.moviedraft.com/us/contact/

All the best,

Mark.

March 7, 2012

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Movie Draft looks interesting. I've been on FD since 1995 and (nowadays, with cheaper software), I can only justify the cost b/c upgrades aren't too expensive...but Movie Draft is less than half of the upgrade price for FD! I don't even use the card view in FD...I just take my 3x5 index cards, so that looks promising.

Don't get me started on FD for the iPad. They completely fell off on that one. I was on a long motorcycle trip and had nothing but the iPad (space...weight...etc...). Anyway, now, 2 years later...they still don't have a writing App for the iPad and sell a reader for $20. (iBooks can read PDF's? Why spend $20 for something that does almost nothing.

Since iOS devices are almost ubiquitous on productions, they could've become somewhat a standard...Back when you had to have a bajillion pages of revisions in different colors (which gets confusiong when salmon looks like pink, and gold looks like yellow...etc...), well, if they went from something just for the screenwriters to something more for production (like Movie Magic's products...), they really could've done something, but they've charged too much for too little, too late, and I'm just about done with them. I'll try Movie Draft and see if I need to finally leave Final Draft.

March 9, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

Too bad the font is horrible to look at... Almost perfect but the font is very important.

August 8, 2012

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The beta version has font smoothing enabled, but it's not in the release version (and last time I tried it, the beta is aptly labeled thanks to bugs and other instabilities). Hopefully soon.

August 8, 2012

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Yes, just bought it and tried the beta. I suggested some ideas (like ful screen index cards mode, justifying text, revison mode), I definitely think it could be a really good writing program... Will use it!!! I am comparing celtx plus with movie draft right now (next article on my website, in french). Celtx is more complet but writing is better (at least for me) with movie draft.

August 12, 2012

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Thanks for this post. It has helped me decide which software to purchase. I look forward to sampling Movie Draft SE.

December 11, 2012

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Scrip B

I just tired the demo and i find this software way more inspiring then final draft. To me final draft feels clunky and dated. It is also a very un inspiring software to work in. I feel this new movie draft environment is very fresh, and alive with color and well though out features.

January 14, 2013

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Matt

I'll test this out, but working on a Retina display Macbook, I've found that Fade In Pro and Scrivener are the only programs that currently look great. Final Draft looks *terrible* on the Retina, and that combined with the lack of support and the really dumbed down iPad app, I've already switched to Fade In (and the developer has made specific improvements that I personally requested! That would *never* happen with Final Draft). The only thing is Fade In is not an outlining program - so I'm left to learn Scrivener, Movie Outline, or something like this Movie Draft. My biggest gripe with all of this is spending too much time learning programs and too little time actually writing. It's dangerous territory, but I'm treading carefully...

February 19, 2013

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Dan

Oh, and I should add that I do exactly what you do, Koo. I start with longhand outlines on large legal pads and dark, smearless ink. I'm really particular about my paper and pens, but unfortunately I always end up with piles of notes. I'm currently experimenting with adding dictation to whittle down my notes, but that seems pretty cumbersome too. I'm sure I'll eventually find a good process that includes all three.

Thanks for suggesting this app!

February 19, 2013

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Dan

I really enjoy this program because it's simple and its affordable on a student budget. One thing I am disappointed with is the fact that there is no "revision mode", unless I simply can't find it? If there is one I would love to know, I thought thats what the color highlighting was for but I guess not. Definitely needs a revision mode, that's pretty crucial I think and one thing that makes me like Final Draft slightly more.

March 28, 2013

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Kyler

Not working for french !! Ne march pas pour le fran├žais !! Mauvais achat.

January 15, 2014

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I agree 100%. I'm a software geek and I have several screenwriting programs that are top notch including FadeIn and Movie Outline. But what attracted me to Movie Draft was the modularity of the scenes, the ability to move them around, duplicate them and hide them. Ideal for me cause I will write the same scene differently multiple times. I actually copied the different color element idea over into Final Draft, and one feature I think is sheer genius is, you can section your outline into acts and see the entire length of your acts and your individual scenes at a glance.

Unfortunately, Movie Draft is lacking in many professional features; revisions, page locking, scene locking, opening multiple screenplays at once, customization, breakdowns, reports and that's off the top of my head. But for creating outlines and writing that first draft, I think Movie Draft is ideal. But when it's time for the rewrite and editing, I'd have to import into something else with more features.

April 18, 2014

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Tashi

Just wondering if anyone on here has encountered saving a file in Movie Draft and then opening it up on the desktop in Apple Script Editor which is just a bunch of numbers and letters. I have a Mac OS X 10.6. Anybody else have this same problem?

April 25, 2014

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Frank

Just an update here. The developer is no longer updating Movie Draft and doesn't respond to emails. Since you get limited authorizations with the purchase, if you wipe out your computer you lose the auth. I'm down to one now so I can only have it on one machine. That sucks and now I need to find another affordable solution.

August 6, 2014

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Chris