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Anyone who has tried to dabble in screenwriting knows that the barriers to entry are far higher than they initially seem. In addition to the artistic aspects, which can take a lifetime to master, there is a multitude of formatting rules that must be adhered to, and a poorly spaced margin or a misplaced slugline in a script is a dead giveaway that the writer needs to take their craft more seriously.
While some of these guidelines can seem arcane, they reveal themselves to be necessary if you spend enough time in the film industry. Screenwriters are certainly artists and a screenplay is a blueprint used to construct that work of art. And just like blueprints must be drawn to scale, scripts have to be formatted in a way that makes them easy to translate to the screen. And while there are a few software options on the market, any writer will tell you that there’s only one name worth knowing: Final Draft.
The industry standard software is used by virtually every screenwriter and taught in virtually every film school. It’s rare for an industry to be so consolidated around one product, but spend an hour writing on the software and you’ll likely understand why. Writing on Final Draft means that your script will look polished and professional, giving you one less thing to worry about in an industry that’s filled with uncertainty. If you want to paint like your favorite Impressionists, you generally want to get your hands on the same oil paints and brushes that they use. Screenwriting is no different. Final Draft software can’t make you a great artist, but it allows you to start on the same canvas that all of your heroes use.
A digital download of Final Draft 12 (which can be used on Windows or Mac) usually sells for $249.99, but right now there’s a 30% discount on the sticker price, so you can start your screenwriting career for a mere $175.99.
Writing in standard screenplay format, using 12 point Courier New font, ensures that every page translates to one minute of running time. This creates a shared vocabulary among everyone working on the film, from producers and location scouts to directors and editors. Filmmaking is an incredibly complicated process, so it’s always good when you can simplify something. Especially when you find yourself working with dozens of people, many of whom are juggling multiple projects at the same time.
All this to say that if you’re not formatting your screenplays properly, you’re simply asking to be left behind. Like it or not, proper formatting is the foundation of any screenwriting career. It is analogous to keeping proper time in music. Once you demonstrate an adequate understanding of the artistic language that everyone else is speaking, you have literally infinite room for creativity and experimentation. But without that vocabulary, collaborating with other artists is impossible. And since Hollywood readers receive such a high volume of scripts every day, bad formatting is a great excuse to discard a potential script and make their workload a little lighter.
Plenty of books have been written about how to format a screenplay (a few of our favorites can be found here), but the easiest way to learn is to get some good writing software. The best screenwriting software formats your scripts for you, leaving your scripts looking pristine while you focus on the story. Rather than constantly referring to a formatting book, you can simply click “character” to type your character name, “dialogue” to write their lines, and so on. The result will always be formatted properly, making you look like an expert, even if you’re writing your first script.
But Final Draft is far more than just a presentation tool. In addition to giving your scripts a polished Hollywood look, many writers say that using Final Draft actually makes the creative process easier. By automatic the formatting process, the software frees up more of your brain to focus on your art. Never having to think about indentations or spacing allows you to get into a flow state that can spawn some great ideas. Thinking about your characters’ backstory or your killer opening scene is certainly a better use of your time!
Using a software that was specifically designed for screenplays should help you understand the subtleties that make the medium unique. A properly formatted screenplay only has room for 55 lines on each page. It is often said that the mark of a great screenwriter is the ability to maximize the artistic value that can be extracted from those 55 lines while minimizing waste. When writing on Final Draft, you’re watching a screenplay be constructed every time you hit “enter.” The automated formatting makes you acutely aware of how much space you’re using, and makes you question whether those extra three words are worth adding another line to your scene description. If you simply write your scripts in a blank Word document, that nuance might be lost on you. If you are serious about writing for Hollywood, getting proper screenwriting software is as much an artistic decision as it is a business one.
For all of the writing benefits, Final Draft 12 should not be confused for a glorified word processor. In addition to movie scripts, it contains a variety of formats for writing TV episodes, stage plays, graphic novels, and much more. A plethora of other tools, including digital index cards for outlining and shooting schedule management, allows the software to seamlessly guide you through the entire filmmaking process. From initial brainstorming to post production, you won’t regret purchasing Final Draft.
If the pandemic caused you to reevaluate your plans and you’re looking for a sign that it’s time to start pursuing your dreams, this is it. Writing the perfect movie or TV pilot is a long and tedious process, but every word you type gets you a little closer to the finished product. In addition to being incredibly user friendly, Final Draft updates their software pretty frequently, so there are always new bells and whistles being added. And the software can easily be transferred between computers, so there’s no need to wait until you get that new laptop. So pick up Final Draft and take the first step on your writing journey. Your future Oscar awaits!