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.