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.