The Best Final Draft Alternatives for Screenwriters
Final Draft is still the industry-leading screenwriting software, but to the beginning writer the price tag might be a turn-off. How to know that the screenwriting life is for you? How to get to grips with the unique requirements of script format?
Fortunately, gone are the days of wonky Word templates and manual margins. There is now a plethora of alternative screenwriting software, and given that writers often share scripts as PDFs, using a “lesser” software package doesn’t have to be a black mark.
Some of these alternatives are free. Others offer one-time purchases or work on a subscription model. Be sure to do your own research to find what works best for your preferred way of working.
(A word of caution, however – when using cloud-based screenwriting software, make sure to make frequent offline backups just as, when working in desktop software, you should get in the habit of making online backups.)
The Alternatives for Screenwriters
Many years ago, Celtx used to be a free download for Mac and Windows. While it’s since transitioned to a cloud-based subscription model, available at several different tiers, Celtx is still at heart a useful and comprehensive screenwriting tool.
Celtx has additional studio tools, designed to help writers and filmmaking teams take a script through the various stages before production. They won’t apply to every writer, but could prove useful for a multi-hyphenate (i.e. producer-director, writer-director, etc.).
Named after the hat, Trelby is a free download available for Mac and Windows. It runs on the Fountain plain text screenwriting markup language and is an open source project, meaning anyone can download and contribute to the programme’s code.
Trelby can work with a multitude of formats, including Final Draft’s, but it’s only available for Windows and Linux.
3. Writer Duet
Writer Duet is another cloud-based subscription screenwriting service, although it also offers offline working. There is a free version, but it limits the number of projects the user can work on at once. As the name implies, it’s designed around collaboration, especially useful for writing teams or developing a script.
Writer Duet has outline and revision modes and can import a multitude of files, including from Final Draft.
Highland, from screenwriter and occasional programmer John August (BIG FISH), started out as software for “melting” screenplays in PDF format (meaning making them editable). This proves handy if the original file is lost or in an outdated format that you can no longer open.
The current version retains that function, but now it’s also fully fledged screenwriting software in its own right. The main selling point is its distraction-free interface, although the software is only available for Mac.
5. Fade In
Fade In is cross-platform, offering the same experience on all operating systems and has mobile apps for Android and iOS. It offers features for collaboration, distraction-free writing, a customisable navigator, reports and revision modes.
It can import files from a variety of formats, including old and new Final Draft files. A free demo is available.
Another cloud-based screenwriting service, Amazon’s version is as slick as you’d expect from the online megastore. What’s more, it comes free with an Amazon account (which everyone in the world probably has by now).
It might be basic – there are no options for dual dialogue columns for example, or offline working. Still, at a pinch it can get the job done. There’s also an option to share read-only copies with others.
Originally and still primarily for prose writers – the ability to publish into common eBook formats is particularly popular with indie novelists – Scrivener also has a handy screenplay mode. The corkboard view turns a document into a series of index cards that you can drag around and rearrange, which is useful for those screenwriters who find themselves caught in the weeds midway through a project.
Scrivener can export documents as PDFs or in Final Draft or Fountain format for further editing.
Movie Magic Screenwriter, or MMS, descended from one of the earliest screenwriting programmes, has persisted as one of the few serious competitors to Final Draft.
MMS has a robust revision mode, making it easy to track drafts, and can also display a script side by side with an outline, cards, or notes, making cross-referencing quick and easy.
Available only for Mac and iOS, Slugline’s main selling point is its simplicity. The interface is minimalist, and it will guess the element as you type it, rather than forcing you to choose first.
Slugline runs on the plain text screenwriting markup language Fountain, which may take some time to wrap your head around. (You can add formatting with asterisks, for example.) But speed is the potential reward, with no need to take your hands away from the keys.
At first glance, Causality’s layout is somewhat bizarre. It’s an outlining-first, screenwriting-next software. Causality has options to structure stories in depth before ever hitting the first page of script, which can be written elsewhere or in the programme as well. Maddening for some writers, perhaps, but potentially a vital piece of the puzzle for others.
Causality has free, subscription and one-time purchase options.
There’s a reason Final Draft remains dominant in the industry, even with all of the competition. It works well, and partly because of that competition, new versions add new features.
But before diving in and making that investment, be sure to check out the many, many alternatives.
Format is one thing, but no software will tell you where a script sings and where it falls short.
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