Saturday 23 February 2013

Free screenwriting software

Screenplays used to be banged out on typewriters. Those were the days! Typists, typing pools, typewriter ribbons, Liquid Paper, and that special knack you needed for squaring up the page.

Not any more. The first ever computerised screenplay formatter was called Scriptor, which was created by Stephen Greenfield and Chris Huntley in 1982. Movie Magic Screenwriter was originally developed under the name ScriptThing. That was bought by Write Brothers, who redeveloped it. The first version of Final Draft came out in 1991.

These days, Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter dominate the field, with Final Draft having almost complete sway in Australia. The problem, for beginner screenwriters, is that they are not cheap products. The good news is that there are alternatives. Free alternatives.

"I think I'd kinda like to be a writer."
Top of the list is CELTX, which is an acronym for Crew, Equipment, Location, Talent and XML. The latest version of Celtx is compatible with Windows XP/Vista /7, Mac OS X, and Linux. The downside is that Celtx isn't content to be the nifty little screenwriting package I was looking for. Instead, it is trying to be all things to all men. It's free, but it's a business as well. I found that confusing.

Rough Draft is available for free. It hasn't been updated since 2005 and is no longer being supported by the creator, but it might interest someone.

Free Film Project is another free software suite. Apart from that, I don't know much about it.

Page 2 Stage used to be available for free, but I notice the download has been disabled. I don't know if that is temporary or permanent.

Ace reporter Clark Gable prepares to tell the story in It Happened One Night.

Plotbot is a free online screenwriting program. The official blurb says: "Write from any browser solo or with friends. No formatting headaches. There's nothing to install, it's free, and it's easy to use."

Another, simpler option is Trelby. It has everything you need to write a screenplay. It isn't overwhelmed by ambitions of conquering the world; it's content to do a job. The product is advertised as "simple, fast and elegantly laid out." All true. Take a look sometime.

Or, if you have Microsoft Word, you can set up your own macros (or styles) to simplify using it for screenwriting. Better yet, you can download a set of macros written by someone who knows how. And there's a whole bunch of those around. Some are free, some cost a few dollars. In fact, Microsoft offers a free download of its own screenplay template, designed for use with Microsoft Word 97 or later

Here are three other examples of macro packages:

FADE IN:  A tenement hotel on the Lower East Side. We can faintly hear the cry of the...
And if none of these work out, like Barton Fink, you can always go back to your typewriter. Just stay out of the Hotel Earle.


Ed Love said...

Nice summary, thanks!

Unknown said...

Excellent rundown on an important tool for screenwriters.