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August 4, 2012

Five Screenwriting Software Applications Under $50 (and Free Demos for All)

In the industry, Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter dominate among screenwriting software applications. Full disclosure: I write my scripts on Final Draft. Why? Because when I started to write scripts, you had three choices for software: Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, or Microsoft Word. Plus, as a production assistant, I was given a copy of Final Draft to type up script revisions for a writer married to his typewriter, so I had an easy entry point with the industry standard. Today, for filmmakers not willing to shell out between $190 and $250 for professional screenwriting software, here are five options ranging from free to $49.95.

Arguably the most prolific screenwriting software (2,000,000 users in 170 countries in 34 languages according to its website), Celtx is free, runs on OSX, Windows and Linux, and has expanded into several areas of pre-production tools. Here at NFS, we have recommended Celtx repeatedly to new users of screenwriting software as a great way to get started, not to mention the availability of a plethora of tutorials and an active user community to provide support. Celtx has found ways to monetize its product through mobile script, scouting and storyboard apps, a desktop writer's pack add-on, and premium cloud-based tools. Yet, even if you paid for the full suite of products (with the one exception of the premium cloud subscription service that costs $5.99/month or $49.99/year - and a free Celtx cloud service exists), you would pay no more than $27 for virtually everything Celtx has to offer. They even have Android apps.

The big question: can you export to Final Draft? Oddly enough, Final Draft's own knowledge base provides step-by-step instructions to show Celtx users how to import text files generated from Celtx into Final Draft. As always, users will need to check for formatting irregularities when going between the applications.

A relative newcomer to the screenwriting software world, Trelby is also a free, open source, collaboratively developed application for screenwriters currently available on Windows and Linux (sorry, OSX users; however, if you code and want to port it to OSX, Trelby is looking for you). Trelby promotes a clean, simple, fast user interface that provides the basic tools a screenwriter needs to write a screenplay. Trelby also provides scene, location, dialogue and character reports, plus the ability to compare scripts. Perhaps most notably, Trelby can import Final Draft (.fdx) and Celtx (.celtx) documents as well as export PDF, formatted text, Final Draft (.fdx), HTML and RTF files. Trelby also provides watermarking for PDF files. Since Trelby is open source, users with a background in coding can configure the application to suit their specific needs.

NFS has already recognized the promise of another newcomer, Movie Draft, and this application fits nicely on this list with a price of $29.99. Movie Draft touts its outlining capabilities that writers can use before they start their screenplays as well as its non-linear functionality with Single Scene Mode where writers can pen the ending or middle of their scripts before the beginning. Users can write multiple versions of a scene and hide previous versions without ever throwing them out in case they want to bring back a previous version in the future. To help Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter users make the transition, Movie Draft lets users choose Tab and Enter shortcuts to match those particular applications. Movie Draft even estimates the current running time of your script - I don't know how accurate this tool is, but interesting nonetheless. Curious? Check out the free demo before you buy. Linux user? Sorry, you'll just have to live with Celtx, Trelby and our next application.

Still offering its introductory price of $49.95, Fade In claims to provide everything Final Draft does plus more. Users can customize the built-in formatting capabilities and even build their own. Fade In allows users to organize their work with color coding in several different ways and scenes can be rearranged throughout the script via the navigator. The application also provides "colored paper" in revision mode, the order of which the user can modify. Fade In will let users open, edit and save in Final Draft (.fdx) format, as well as open Movie Magic Screenwriter and Celtx files. Fade In saves its own files in the Open Screenplay, XML-based format to keep them non-application specific and future proof. Fade In can be used on OSX, Windows, Linux, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. If you want to go mobile, you have two options: free or paid. The free version of Fade In's mobile apps let users create content on their iOS or Android devices, then export the files to their Dropbox accounts, ready for import into the desktop version. To import files from the desktop version into the mobile app, users need to upgrade to the paid apps for $4.99 (OK, so this pushes it over $50, but barely). Of course, there's also a free demo of the desktop application for you to try out.

Adobe Story Free provides online screenwriting software that integrates with Premiere Pro CS6 for, well, free. The major catch to Adobe Story Free is the application is only available online. If you want to edit your script offline, you're going to need Adobe Story Plus, and that is going to cost you -- $24.99 a month for non-Creative Cloud subscribers or $14.99 a month for Creative Cloud subscribers. Adobe Story Free should work well for DIY filmmaking teams already committed to Premiere that want collaborative script editing tools that will integrate with their post-production process. Adobe Story Free offers limited capabilities for shooting scripts, scheduling, production scheduling reports and production script revisions. What exactly "limited" means, I'm not entirely sure as Adobe implies that Story Plus has full capabilities in these areas. Bottom line: if you're already an Adobe Premiere user, Story Free may be worth a look, but the monthly subscription rates for its full-fledged Plus sibling will likely send users to other software applications, including the industry standard Final Draft.

Do you currently use any of these screenwriting applications and want to share your experiences? Or do you have suggestions for additional applications we should review? Let us know in the Comments.

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44 Comments

Trelby is a great app for Linux - The fact that it has both Celtx & .fdx support is great.

You missed a trick not including Scrivener though. Scrivener is THE app for working on the first draft.

Also, if you use Fountain, the screenwriting Markdown syntax, you don't need any screenwriting app till you are done. I use it when I've nothing at hand and its great. Uses Plain Text files. In a folder in Dropbox. Sorted.

August 4, 2012

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rshorts

Personnaly I just use Libre Office. It's enough and you have more freedom. All those softwares are for americans only (the way to build and write a script is not the same in all countries).
Fade in and Trelby seem nice though!

August 4, 2012

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I agree with rshorts you missed Scrivener. Scrivener is a robust Mac app. Their Windows version isn't quite as powerful, but pretty good. I believe they are working on an iOS version also.

I've used Move Magic Screenwriter for years, unfortunately they have not updated it in years and don't look like they plan to (there are also a few bugs while writing in novel format). For new scripts I use Scrivener or Celtx although I wished you could use Celtx with Dropbox instead of being forced you use their proprietary Cloud format.

August 4, 2012

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If you have a Mac and an iPad and want go-anywhere screenwriting, you might want to check out Storyist which costs about this much.

August 4, 2012

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Peter

Everybody shut up and just get celtx. Its free. And it does production scheduling, documents, storyboards, collaborative notes, and screenplays.

August 4, 2012

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john jeffreys

I've used Movie Draft since Koo's write-up on it last year and I love it. Having the index card view along side the script view is very useful. It's laid out very nicely, not cluttered and support has been great. Celtx is my second choice.

August 4, 2012

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Jeff

Movie Draft is my favorite one to use. Love the nonlinear capabilities and the layout. Celtx is cool but I think theyfocus on too many fancy production features in lieu of the core, the writing. I keep Final Draft on my computer because of it's force in the industry. I keep Celtx just in case I want to use the pre-production tools included. However, I write exclusively in Movie Draft.

August 4, 2012

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Another vote for Scrivener. My favourite writing program - so good for structuring scripts and long documents. It costs $45 but they give you a generous trial.

August 5, 2012

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Stu Mannion

I love MovieDraft. But the development seems to have stalled out in the past few months, as longstanding bugs haven't been fixed. Hopefully, an updated version will be released sometime soon.

August 5, 2012

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Robby

I have final draft on my home mac but use adobe story free on my work laptop. Adobe story can export as a fdx, so I can work on both my computers. I don't have final draft on my work computer because the company doesn't like me installing my software and plus I don't have my final draft install files anymore

August 5, 2012

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Jason

Interesting that my simple comment suggesting Storyist for those with iPads got censored. Is there something bad about Storyist we don't know? Did the author or site owner get into a spat with the guy from Storyist?

August 5, 2012

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Peter

Actually what is more interesting is that you jumped to the most conspiratorial conclusion first. Our spam filter picked it up, probably a combination of the single word for your name and the fake email that you use.

August 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

That had never been a problem before, and the comment had appeared posted as normal for a while. I have my own antispam measures, sorry for the symmetry in our relationship. ;-) Anyway if you don't want me to contribute comments I will leave quietly at your direction.

August 5, 2012

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Peter

Why would I want that? Not everything you contribute is negative. :) The spam filter doesn't always work how it's supposed to work, and there are also times when I accidentally delete comments when I'm on my phone, because the Wordpress app uses a touch gesture to give you the options about what to do with comments. That email that you use is only seen by us, the writers, so there wouldn't ever be a problem with spam (just for future reference).

August 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Ok thank you Joe. I try to be helpful as I can. I was just a bit sore about censorship after the other day I spent 15 minutes composing a very helpful, respectful comment on Philip Bloom's blog concerning shutter angle...someone had posted wrong math about rate conforming and Mr. Bloom inexplicably agreed with him. They posted my initial correction but didn't allow the more detailed exposition, which I referenced the work of ASC cinematographers in writing, even though they did allow other posters' comments later in the thread (and those were stupid comments). I guess he didn't want to be embarrassed having mixed up his math, but the censorship did make me wonder why I'm taking time sharing this knowledge rather than playing keep away with it.

Yes I should keep complaints about other blogs to other blogs. You are welcome to delete this whole subthread

August 5, 2012

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Peter

I won't comment about other websites because I don't know how their filters work and I also don't know the full situation without being an administrator. What I will say is that we don't censor legitimate comments purposefully, even if we make a mistake. In fact, we welcome others pointing out mistakes, whether they are technical or grammatical - though we do prefer when people make corrections respectfully (we're all human after all).

We are about getting it right for our readers - because spreading incorrect information out of stubbornness doesn't help anyone.

August 5, 2012

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

I think this site is awesome and I always feel well-treated here. Thank you for your efforts, whatever they pay you is probably not enough. =)

August 5, 2012

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Peter

Oh, it's back. Never mind...?

August 5, 2012

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Peter

Celtx is good for people who just want to fool around with writing a screenplay. Trelby is like Celtx, except with way fewer features (you can't even underline or bold text with it). But when you want to do revisions or anything "real" writers need to do, the free hobby writer tools aren't enough.

Fade In is the only one that pros use (listen to Craig Mazin's podcast with John August).

Pros don't use Movie Draft or Adobe Story. Never heard of either being used by anyone, to be honest.

August 5, 2012

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WC

Not sure how you arrive at Fade in being the only one pros use - especially from Craig and johns podcast. John talked at length how he wrote an entire screenplay on Scrivener and liked the power but ultimately still had to bring it into Final Draft for the final go over and be ready to 'talk the same language' with the rest of the industry - most of whom use Final Draft.

Craig spoke briefly about Fade in - that he had high hopes for it, hadnt really used it much as he found some things that he didn't feel worked 'as they should' for a pro writing program and had asked the creator to fix them.

I think from that podcast what you would really get is that you can use anything to write your screenplay. In fact the overall theory seemed to be for the first draft to get away from the formatting and everything else and just WRITE - plain text if you have to! ;-)

August 5, 2012

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Paul

I gave Adobe Story a legitimate test run on my last production. I like the idea of premiere integration. Terrible mistake. It's the buggiest software I've ever seen with the Adobe sticker on it. Celtx is just the way to go.

August 5, 2012

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Isn't anybody using Fountain? I think it's a great idea: work on plain text files with simple format markers from any device you want, then convert to complex format and output from your software of choice.
http://fountain.io/

August 6, 2012

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I use Fountain. More accurately, I use WriteRoom for writing in Fountain syntax. The best thing about this for me is the syncing to Dropbox. This leaves me with a plain text archive of my scripts that is very lightweight and synced to all my devices. The Fountain syntax imports very well into other programs. The automation of Celtx is nice but mostly I need to get words on the page, not worry about their formatting.

I still like Celtix and keep it around. I like to use it for shoot planning. For pure writing though, plain text (and Fountain) are the way to go for me.

August 11, 2012

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Scrivener has a wonderful full screen mode. Because of the organizational power, it is great for a first draft. I think when you get into production, you want something like Final Draft to keep with up with revisions and the countless processes production uses.

August 6, 2012

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Ajit

As a Celtx user, I'm looking for an upgrade. Does either Final Draft or Scrivener offer a tool that lets you filter dialogue by character? Celtx offers a dialogue report, but it does not allow me to make edits.

A tool of this nature is beneficial in ensuring that a character's voice and ticks are consistent.

August 6, 2012

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Bill Clar

I believe Story Plus is included in Creative Cloud memberships. There isn't an extra fee. And if you purchased a copy of a CS6 Collection you have access as well. At least that was my understanding.

I'd like to hear peoples thughts on Story as I'm going to give it a test run on my next production.

August 6, 2012

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Yes Scrivener seems really good!!

August 6, 2012

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Actually I just checked out Scrivener on the PC and so far Im very impressed - kind of exactly what I was looking for. In addition to novels it formats and lets you write screenplays the same as any other screenwriting app but offers so many additional benefits, especially at the early planning and outlining stage. The one thing I liked about Movie Draft was the concept of focusing on one scene at a time. Sadly for me its all it is really good for making it a bit of a one trick pony. With Scrivener you can also focus on single scenes but you have the immense back-end of powerful features at your disposal. I still see myself bringing a script into Final Draft for the final revisions but I guess this would only be necessary if you were pitching it to a big studio (or any studio using Final Draft).

I still like the look and feel of Fade In however despite claims to the contrary, I feel it is lacking in many areas compared to Final Draft. Especially when it comes to the Index Card implementation which to me is an utter fail at this stage.

August 7, 2012

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Paul

Used Final Draft all through College but had been using Celtx since high school on all personal projects. It has gotten a little more complicated over time but the product is still very sound. I think they are working a little to hard to make it editable via multiple people at a time and not just enriching key features. But still amazing!

August 9, 2012

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This is like the cheaper, better spoilt for choice video camera situation we have now.

Where once there was only the very expensive and so-so performing Final Draft, now there are several better, cheaper performing apps for screen writers. Several perfectly fine apps to choose from now. Any will do. My favourite is Movie Draft, as I like the simplicity and aesthetic yet utilitarian nature of it.

August 9, 2012

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Lucas Adamson

I've been using Trelby lately, and it at least gets the basics right like putting page breaks in the right place, a feat that buggy Celtx never managed to do correctly when I used it.
I also like NOT having to send my files somewhere over the internet just to end up with a PDF back on my harddrive.
Trelby gets the job done, and it's free, that makes it hard to beat in my book.

August 10, 2012

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NohOne

Celtx is an amazing program for free. Sure it may not have all of what Final Draft unless you buy it. But should that matter? It is a tool that stands out more than the rest.

August 10, 2012

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For those who can read french, I tested 11 softwares here: http://www.vincentgaliano.com/un-petit-tour-dhorizon-des-logiciels-decri...
and compared Celtx Plus and Movie Draft there: http://www.vincentgaliano.com/celtx-vs-movie-draft/

August 14, 2012

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Here's Fade In's comparison to Final Draft and some others including Celtx:

http://www.fadeinpro.com/page.pl?content=comparison

August 24, 2012

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Paul

XStudio Scripts - for iPad

A new fresh concept in writing Screenplays.

An Artist/Writer/Director point of view

www.xstudioscripts.com

May change how you look at writing screenplays

December 9, 2012

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Ray

Websites, software, options, bells and whistles, which program is better, which gives the most capability, bla, bla, bla, bla bla...just get to writing, even if it's on an old typewriter the way it used to be done. Celtx, however, is just a fiine product. So are the rest, really, when you think about it. All you need is keys and to be able to see your words on the screen. Just get to the writing, guys....good luck.

Writer.

March 4, 2013

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Writer

Or, even better. Use Fountain writedown format in Google Docs, which allows realtime collaboration, then export to Fade In and covert to Final Draft or whatever format you want. Using Google Docs for realtime collaboration means you don't have to rely on Final Drafts 'Collabowriter' which we all know is impossible to get working...

April 9, 2013

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James Finlan

Hi, thank you for the comprehensive post. However, I came over from Screenplayreaders.com to ask about the right (and inexpensive OR free!) program to convert a novel to screenplay. My dialogue closely follows movie script, if that matters to you, and cut and paste is an option I want to use. Saw that Trelby says it has it, but no command is included in the manual. Advise.

June 10, 2013

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Well, you can use dropbox with anything really. Simply create a folder in dropbox and save your files there.

July 22, 2013

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Eric Campbell

Great list! The first one I have used was Final Draft - offered at a discount at our college's bookstore. And for aspiring writers, the price can be steep. This can surely help beginning writers to narrow-down their screenwriting resources options.

One important fact that every aspiring screenwriter should know is that all the pros definitely make use of a screenwriting software. Formatting is tough and takes a while to master, so to leverage the quality of your work and the speed with which you write your materials, investing in screenwriting tools is necessary.

July 27, 2013

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I'm the creator of www.WriterDuet.com, a (free) real-time collaborative screenwriting app. Along with standard screenwriting features, cool ones like editing only the scenes you want and grammar checking, it offers the ability to share your script with any number of other writers. When your collaborators join the script, you can all writer and see everyone's changes instantly. It imports/exports Final Draft, Celtx, Fountain, and PDF files.

August 3, 2013

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All is good here but if your serious about writing also try www.getmyscreenplaywritingsecrets.com
I found this to be very helpful

October 8, 2013

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John Dawson

Celtx is no longer free. They switched to an online version that has a weekly or monthly fee.

November 24, 2013

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Keaton

You can still get the desktop version for free - https://www.celtx.com/desktop.html

January 3, 2014

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Brian