Firstly, before we get into this, you do need to be using screenwriting software. The automating formatting will make your life a lot easier and help ensure the output of a professional looking pdf file plus there are free options out there for every platform. You are gaining nothing by using Word or Google Docs templates. If anything, that will make your life harder and potentially make you look amateurish.
As for what’s the best screenwriting software out there? You’re going to get a lot of people, mainly amateurs, telling you that you need to be using Final Draft, that it’s the industry standard, and the best option out there. Consider the following;
Neil Cross (Spooks, Dr Who, Luther) uses Scrivener.
Craig Mazin (The Hangover Pt2 & 3, Identity Thief, Chernobyl) uses Fade In.
Phil Lord (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Lego Movie, 21 & 22 Jump Street) uses Highland 2
Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Aladdin) use Movie Magic Screenwriter
Scott Stewart (Legion, Dark Skies, Dominion) uses Slugline.
Christopher Ford (Robot & Frank, Spider-Man: Homecoming) uses Writer Duet.
So, based on that, tell me Final Draft is the best screenwriting software out there and the first choice for Hollywood professionals.
A lot of people push others into buying Final Draft and using that since the proprietary xml derived file format it uses (.fdx) is an industry standard that plugs into many other production and scheduling programs. However, there is no industry standard for writing stories and pretty much everything out there can output perfectly in .fdx format, so no writer should fear they can chose the wrong software to work with. Plus it takes about five minutes to pickup and learn a new program. Seriously there’s nothing to fear. People make way too big a deal about this.
The best screenwriting software is whatever brings out the best in us as individual artists. I bounced around a few options and my happy place is developing in Scrivener and polishing in Final Draft. I only know that works for me because I went out of my comfort zone to try alternatives. Given that screenwriting software is so easy to pickup and use, we really owe it to ourselves to experiment with what’s out there.
When DO you need Final Draft? The moment you go pro is the time you absolutely should have it installed as you’ll most likely be making revisions back and forth with a producer and potentially doing rewrites on set. You can download a demo and get familiar with it before hand but it’s far from complicated to get to grips with. You can also get the Final Draft app for your phone/tablet allowing you to open and edit files on the road. For what it’s worth, I did onset rewrites for Break Even on an iPad, using the Final Draft app, with a Brydge bluetooth keyboard.
As far as all options go, here are links to everything I’m aware of in no particular order and without agenda;
- Arc Studio
- Celtx Studio (has a free trial period)
- Fade In Pro
- Final Draft
- Highland 2 (free but watermarks your pdf files)
- Movie Magic
- Raw Scripts.com (free)
- Script Buddy
- Script Studio
- Trelby (free)
- Writer Duet (free for your 1st three scripts)
- WriterSolo (free)