When it comes to screenwriting software, there's Final Draft -- and then there's everything else. Or, at least, this was the situation for years. I can remember being a teenager (many years ago), getting a copy of Final Draft for Christmas, and being really excited that I wouldn't have to hand-set all the margins and pagination in Word anymore, which everyone knows is excruciatingly annoying. These days, there are plenty of new options, including Fade In, an application that gives Final Draft a run for its money (literally). Click below to check out a review and get a breakdown of the features!
To begin with, there's the issue of price. While the newest version of Final Draft is $249, or $79 for an upgrade from a previous version, Fade In is currently just $49, and its usual price is $99, which is a big plus for the screenwriter on a budget (and pretty much every screenwriter I know is on a budget).
Fade In was developed by Kent Tessman, a filmmaker who was dissatisfied with Final Draft, though he had been using it for years:
Final Draft has always been a bit like writing in a funhouse mirror by strobe light. Glitchy text rendering, big chunks of the page not getting redrawn properly, traces of (non-)blinking caret left behind all over the place like breadcrumbs. Final Draft 7 in particular was a bit of a fiasco. Getting back to some writing projects after finishing up a feature, part of me hoped that Final Draft 8 would heal the litany of ailments suffered by its predecessors. But firing up the latest and brand-newest Final Draft on a brand new computer proved that would not be the case.
To solve his quandary, Kent wrote a new application, which runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, and has versions for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. I tested it on a 2012 Macbook Pro running 10.7.5. The interface of Fade In is very clean, but deceptively simple. It's an easy to use, intuitive screenwriting application, and runs at a brisk pace, with very little delay:
Here's a side-by-side comparison of features between Fade In, Final Draft 8, Celtx, and Adobe Story. Some of Fade In's features are: WYSIWYG editing, Full Unicode Support, the ability to Modify script styles, custom formatting, text highlighting, line length adjustment, more and continued, revision page colors, scene number locking and many more. Besides the traditional screenplay format, there is the option to write a stageplay, half-hour sitcom, or one-hour drama. Additional formats, such as Cole and Haag, Warner Bros., and others such as A/V, radio and even a graphic novel template can be downloaded from the site.
Compared to Final Draft and Celtx
That being said, Fade In doesn't have the numerous pre-production elements native to applications like Final Draft and Celtx. In Fade In, it is possible to create index cards (they are generated automatically based on the number of sluglines, but you can't add more, for instance to create a board with your scenes before writing them.) They're also monochromatic and not as detailed as the color-coded options in Final Draft, where specific production elements can be marked and organized. And Celtx, a free application (with the option of a $14.95 add-on), features a number of ways to nest projects and notes within projects, allowing for a sort of online file cabinet; it also has a plethora of elements like storyboards that can be cross-referenced , though for it to work as a production workflow tool, the entire production has to be using Celtx (which won't export to Final Draft or Movie Magic, the two industry standards.) There are workarounds for exporting Celtx, but they involve exporting the file as either text or HTML, then importing to your application of choice and going through all the headaches of reformatting that usually entails, especially with Final Draft.
With regard to import/export options, Fade In can import Final Draft and Celtx files (though it can't export Celtx files). Final Draft can import text files, RTF files, and FCF (file converter files), and it can export to text, rich text, other Final Draft versions, and send production information to Avid and Movie Magic. Celtx can only import or export text or HTML files.
Fade In uses the traditional keyboard shortcuts (e.g., on a Mac, ⌘1 for a slugline, ⌘2 for action, etc.) so it's not confusing to get started. Fans of Fade In include The Hangover 2 and 3 screenwriter Craig Mazin and Children's Hospital writer and comedian Rob Corddry, who jokingly referred to it as, "Final Draft without the suck."
Writing with Fade In is a pleasure. Its clean, two-color, three-panel interface and speed make it a lean greyhound of an application, perfect for writing. If you want to get much more complicated, or have other production needs, then Final Draft, Celtx, or Movie Magic are probably for you. But Fade In is a great writer's program. I frequently use Write Room for writing fiction, and I would say that Fade In is its screenwriting counterpart in terms of ease-of-use, design, and functionality. It does one thing, but it does it very well.
For those on a budget or who find themselves dissatisfied with Final Draft, or simply want a clean, writing-based screenwriting application, Fade In is a great, economical alternative that can do almost everything the big boys can, and can export to Final Draft (something Celtx can't do). Movie Magic is still the standard for production planning, but as far as a writing program goes, Fade In is a solid application for a reasonable price.
What's your experience been with screenwriting software? Have you tried Fade In? Would you be willing to? Or are you a holdover who still writes on a typewriter, or (gasp) by longhand?
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Slugline for the win!
June 3, 2013 at 6:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I am surprised there are so few free/open source screenwriting choices. Magic Lantern has to be a far more complicated program to write while something like Celtxt or the defunct Cinergy should be something that can be put together over the weekend by a semi-competent hack. With or without a burning cigarette in an ashtray. Or the Police's "Every breath you take" on the background.
June 3, 2013 at 6:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
While ML must indeed be difficult to write, I think you seriously underestimate the complexity of something like Celtx. Given its scope (pre-production, screenwriting and production management) there's a hell of a lot to implement, and anything as large as that will have a) loads of bugs to gradually sift through and b) loads of feature requests from users.
June 3, 2013 at 9:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
The difficulty with Magic Lantern is not with the code (they've more or less been turning on or off specific registers), but with the fact that they didn't know what anything did.
June 3, 2013 at 10:21AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Absolutely. I was actually going to say that ML is, in some conceptual sense, simpler to write than a good solid screenwriting package (depending on complexity, as DLD says) but didn't want to make a long comment going into all the technical details and caveats!
June 3, 2013 at 1:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Ladies and germs - before the PC entered the mainstream, back in 1993 - which would make it 20 years ago .. ah, some of us are older than others - I had a Canon word processor. It had a 12-line LCD screen, 3.5" floppy for storage and a built-in inkjet printer. I set the dialog to 25-27 fields (25-52, IIRC) and the character was placed on the third tab. The worst/hardest thing about it was the page break because often an extra line here and there moved the entire script. With some experience, I began to leave a little room at every page end, just in case. But it was very functional and very simple to both "program" and to use. Others I knew - proper PC's carried a hefty tag back then - with word processors had similar approaches. In this day and age, I will speculate, an experienced pro can write a very basic screenwriting program in a day. To add to what I had 20 years ago, a stripped down version would only need the automatic dialog and character formatting, page breaks and the PDF conversion. Everything else can be manual, since it's rarely used. Celtxt does more than the absolute minimum, by the way. (and, yes, I am still surprised that more people haven't entered the fray, at least for a non-cloud market!).
And I thank you for your patience, everyone.
June 3, 2013 at 5:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
What I had in mind was your basic screenwriting format - slugline, transition, dialog, action, characters, etc. - which can't be all that difficult to pull off, with or without the spellchecker. I understand that Celtxt is offering a whole slew of options but most non-salaried writers just need something simple and open sourced. Yet, from zillion of free apps out there, the number of free screenwriting tools is few and far in between.
I'll also note that I had used Cynergy in the past and was none too pleased when they stopped supporting the free version.
PS. By the way, as I recall from that John August "inspired" software that was mentioned on this site recently, merging texts from converted PDF files can be done fairly easily as well.
June 3, 2013 at 11:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Just a plug for Scrivener which is the same price and great for creative structuring.
June 3, 2013 at 6:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I use fade in pro on both pc & android and am so much satisfied with it. Couldn't deal with the others. My android and pc versions link together with dropbox
June 3, 2013 at 9:42AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
"My android and pc versions link together with dropbox " Do you have to use dropbox? It seems like a drawback. Cannot be linked by just connecting via USB? Going away to find peace and time to write sometimes also means away from any online connectivity. The IT experience side of me knows me that there is nothing completely private in cyberspace, so I would not upload original ideas as work in progress; but that is just me. For those that normally share creativity in the cloud, do not need to worry, somebody is making sure all is well and dandy: "DIB Cyber Pilot renamed Enhanced Cybersecurity Services. bypasses #CISPA by executive order. Internet monitoring would exist “for any purpose"- It is already in place. Expect no privacy in communications." I just cringe to think a plot I am writing could include terms that may trigger a National security alert, or link me to dubious characters that only exist on a screenplay.
June 3, 2013 at 1:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
oops...I have an extra "me" in the previous comment.
June 3, 2013 at 2:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
lo...chill...trust me there are numerous triggers to National security alert than a "dot"
you filmmakers think too highly of yourselves....lol...just kidding
anyways, the drop-box feature for me is useful as I could have anyone download it at anytime or I could be at the wife's place when my battery's dead and use it on her computer. It's just a feature. you could use the file usb / email / whatever-way-you-choose-to-transfer-files
June 3, 2013 at 3:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
i meant ----> than a "dot" "filmmaking software suffix"
June 3, 2013 at 3:32PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I actually love writing with Fade in - there is just something about the way it handles, looks and feels as you bust out scenes that makes you want to keep on writing.
Having said that I feel it needs a MASSIVE overhaul to the index card implementation. The way it works now it may as well not be there at all. The inability to write on the actual cards - you have to double click them and then this clunky as hell input box pops up...FORGET IT!
Then again for outlining nothing beats the power of Scrivener - if only someone could merge these two great programs - it would be a complete screenwriting power house.
June 3, 2013 at 7:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I usually start longhand and then go from there to CeltX. CeltX is a little too clunky for me, though. I may give this one a shot, but the gorgeous simplicity of Scrivener is also attractive. Maybe both...
June 3, 2013 at 8:52PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
How awesome would it be if Scrivener took the time to improve the screenwriting part of the program. I mean surely with every man and there dog releasing fairly decent screenwriting apps it cant be that hard.
I mean what they have currently is not that bad...it just falls short on too many levels. But given what talented programmers they are it shouldn't take that much to put it on par with Fade in or similar.
Perhaps they could sell it as an add on component - I would happily pay an extra $30-$50 for something as nice and functional as Fade-in with the back end power of Scrivener.
June 4, 2013 at 2:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
With Celtx you can also file/print -> .pdf
June 4, 2013 at 7:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
My issue with celtx is and has always been the lack of WYSIWYG when writing. On the desktop version that bullshit step of having to go online to see the correct layout of what you have written has never washed with me. Long ago the creator mentioned some poor excuse related to the code they used and cost which impacted the free nature of celtx BUT there are several free screenwriting apps that manage to offer a WYSIWYG application without any problem. If they fixed this and updated the desktop version it might be worth a look.
June 4, 2013 at 3:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
How about Scrivener?
It's about 30$ and it's a very competitive program.
I've been using it for a while now and it works great for me.
June 5, 2013 at 7:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Why so little love for Movie Magic Screenwriter? Every application, especially for mobile use, hypes up Final Draft compatibility and the opening sentence - "When it comes to screenwriting software, there’s Final Draft – and then there’s everything else" - only reinforces this meme. It's ironic that the guy who created Fade In did so because he found Final Draft so wanting; why not move to MMS instead of writing a new app from scratch?!
As for Celtx, the reason it's free is because who'd pay to use that beast? Ugh. I wanted to dash off a little scene while at work w/o my laptop and it was a nightmare to use, format, print from and then export into something MMS could import. I think I ended up retyping the thing because it was faster than brawling with Celtx.
June 5, 2013 at 9:02PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Your kidding right? MMS looks like the bastard child of MS word back when it was running on MS-Dos mixed with a bad acid trip. Its HIDEOUS to look at and HEINOUS to use - I would rather chisel my screenplays ala Flintstones than attempt to use that outdated piece of crap.
I mean if your happy with it and it works for you then fine - but its the year 2013 and the industry has evolved to be light years ahead of whatever decade MMS is stuck in. Tools like Scrivener and fade in are the future of writing.
June 6, 2013 at 12:39AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I have trialled most screenwriting software and FadeIn Pro and FadeIn Mobile combination is one of the few that works on PC, iPhone and iPad, and has the most mature sync between devices. Final Draft and FinalDraft Writer is an awful combination (which may improve if and when the Writer app is upgraded and gets past its first release), but in particular its sync is catastrophic and requires reimporting into the Writer app when you have worked on another device - but it is easy to work on the wrong version and lose work. FadeIn is clean in appearance, fast, safe and good value. My tool of choice.
June 7, 2013 at 11:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
I was experiencing an issue with import in Fade In, I emailed support and got a lightning fast response. It's been sorted out, and I'm officially converted to a Fade In user (coming from Final Draft).
October 30, 2013 at 5:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Just switched to Fade In after 14 years with Final Draft. The whole thing reminds me a bit with of the good old days of Apple vs Mac. Final Draft have no idea what they're doing anymore. I've been waiting for a Retina update for 16 months now and when I contacted them, they assured me it would come with the next version of FD and that I would have to buy it ! I tried the demo version of FD and it simply does everything better, if one can overlook a rather drab toolbar. Going back to Final Draft now feels like going back in time, fuzzy screen, more expensive, buggy... Way to go guys!
November 16, 2013 at 1:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Sorry, I meant "Apple vs PC" above...
November 16, 2013 at 1:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Tried FadeIn on Mavericks and doesn't even work. Amateur. Don't know why I even tried.....Back to FD.
January 26, 2014 at 11:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM
What I really enjoy about fadein that seems to be missing in the article (I didn't see it when I read it) is its seamless integration with dropbox. so using the drop version on my Mac I can then when traveling open the same scripts in the mobile version on my phone or ipad and then at work I can open them on my of. Actually that's its strongest feature. This what really drove it home for me. The article also mention something about little delay, I just have to slightly correct that, sorry, there is zero delay. You can add and change elements so easily. What's not to like here. Yes it doesn't have prod capability for shot lists, this is a draw back, a strong one. But just to screenwrite, I love it. It works on any Mac OS for me and the portability between os's and mobile devices is just amazing
March 3, 2014 at 5:37AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM
Made some typos, ha the irony. Using fadein & dropbox ican open the same scripts on any desktop, Mac or win, or any mobile device ios or android. Android takes some getting used to, once u do its smooth sailing.
March 3, 2014 at 5:40AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM
I use it on Maverick and it works perfectly.
FadeIn have state of the art support, you should let them know.
March 8, 2014 at 9:21AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
state of the art support? okay what on EARTH am i missing here? i'm about to go back to fd too and i hated fd.
July 18, 2014 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
While many responses here seem to be from the Western world, i'd say as a multilingual writer, full Unicode support simply wins me over. Final Draft have been nothing short of arrogant or stupid on this front, and I am thrilled to simply switch over to Fade In. Even if Final Draft introduces it in haste, which I doubt they will, I am leaving the FD camp once and for all.
(After using several versions of FD, I would even have been happy to pay for Unicode input ability, but they never even came close to introducing it)
June 9, 2014 at 6:02AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
I just downloaded it and take issue with one part of this review: easy and not confusing to get started? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There's no tutorial, no help, no guide to what the symbols mean, and takes a good few hours to get started with it. And i bought the pay version. If i can't get this thing started, I'm uninstalling it and asking for my money back. I'm sure it's a fantastic program but there's no guide whatsoever on what the hell to do with it once it's there.
July 18, 2014 at 10:55PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
IGNORE EVERYTHING i just said.
I think beccause i was so used to complicated, i was complicating this. it's ridiculously easy!
NOTE TO ANYONE ELSE who gets the 'what the hell do i do now' feeling: dont overcomplicate it. like i did. i now will take a valium, a piece of humble pie, and have already written an apology to the app inventor. :)
July 18, 2014 at 11:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
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August 13, 2014 at 1:14AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
First of all I would like to say terrific blog!
I had a quick question that I'd like to ask if you don't mind.
I was interested to know how you center yourself
and clear your mind prior to writing. I've had a hard
time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out.
I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted just trying to figure
out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Appreciate it!
August 20, 2014 at 5:56PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
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January 10, 2018 at 7:22PM