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Stanley Yang
September 25, 2020

10 Essential Screenwriting Software for Film (2020)

Professional screenwriting software is crucial for today's scriptwriters. Screenwriting is finding it's way into the lives of people who wish to start writing their first movie script, with many aspiring film and television writers beginning as hobbyists.

These writers are ripe with narratives but lack traditional screenwriting courses. So, these bold, brave, and promising folks grab their copy of "Save the Cat" and open up Microsoft Word.

However, unless they speak the screenplay formatting language required in professional productions, their script will get tossed. Without a proper script format, their ideas are trash bin fodder.

As such, screenplay formatting software is an absolute must for both the novice and seasoned scriptwriters. By using screenwriting software, you're adhering to an established industry standard that professionals require and expect.

Essential Elements of Screenplay Formatting

Time is money, and no producer has the time to try to decipher your script. It's your responsibility to learn how to properly format your script to transfer it from the written page to the screen.

Screenplay formatting must be exact. For instance, one page is to be equal to one minute of screen time. So a 90-page script equals a 90-minute film. To understand the basic screenplay format, we'll take a look at the Master Scene Format style.

This style has six elements:

  • Scene Heading - Also known as slug lines, scene headings are written in caps. After the scene heading, the screenwriter places the location name and time of day.
  • Action - What action is taking place, including sounds.
  • Character Name - The character name is written in all caps. O.S. or V.O. refers to a character off-screen
  • Parentheticals - How dialogue is spoken.
  • Dialogue blocks - Center dialogue blocks on the page.
  • Transitions - Scene transitions such as FADE IN, DISSOLVE TO and FADE OUT

As you can see, there's more to writing a screenplay than just writing. Elements have to be in their proper place, some in caps, or centered on the page.

If that's not enough, there are margins to consider, as the left margin is to be 1.5 inches and both top and bottom margin 1 inch. Imagine having to type all that out on your own? Formatting a screenplay by hand is an absolute distraction, robbing the writer of precious time and creative energy.

Using the screenwriting software the suits your needs, you're free to write, organize and present with peace of mind.

Topsheet's Top 10 Pick for Screenwriting Software

If this is your first time searching for a screenwriting software program, know that it can be confusing. Each brand will offer its software options.

The needs of scriptwriters, graphic novelists, Youtube content creators, filmmakers, advertising, and theatrical productions all have their own set of guidelines to follow.

Therefore, as you browse through our list of the ten best screenwriting software programs, consider what you need and make your choice accordingly.

1. Fade In

Key Features:

  • Automatic script formatting
  • Auto-complete typing
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Cloud storage
  • Image support
  • Supports multiple file formats
  • Generates script breakdown reports
  • Multi-platform compatibility
  • Generates production reports
  • Free Software updates

Fade In is one of the top-rated screenwriting software packages on the market. Developed by a screenwriter for screenwriters, Kent Tessman, Fade In is an affordable, multi-language software package with free and paid versions.

Notable sceenwriters who've used Fade In include Gary Whitta, Kelly Marcel, Ken Levine, and Rian Johnson.

Other features include a Dialogue Tuner, which gives the writer a helping hand in ensuring the character's voice remains true to form. Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and smartphones and tablet platforms.

Target Audience:

Fade In is for professional screenwriters looking to transfer their ideas to film smoothly. By generating production reports, script breakdown reports, and allowing for real-time collaboration over various platforms, it's the perfect choice for production management on set.

2. Trelby

Key Features:

  • Auto-complete
  • Character name database
  • Generates dialogue, scene, location, and character reports
  • Version tracking
  • Screenplay import and export feature
  • Integrated PDF file generator
  • Completely free

Developed by Osku Salerma in 2003, Trelby is one of the best screenwriting software packages for beginners. This multi-platform program comes with a screenplay editor that's easy to comprehend.

As the writer enters text, Trelby automatically begins to format it correctly. Trelby is a free, open-source software program licensed under GPL, which encourages screenwriters to craft a more feature-laden program.

Target Audience:

Trelby is excellent for the beginning screenwriter. A terrific choice for educational institutions and start-up video editing companies looking for a cost-effective way to transfer the script to video.

3. WriterDuet

Key Features:

  • Cloud based
  • Auto-sync
  • Templates
  • Outlining tools
  • Revision Tracking
  • Back up copies
  • Free updates
  • Multiple browser and mobile device friendly
  • Plugins are available to enhance customization.

Screenwriter Guy Goldstein created WriterDuet in 2013. Known as one of the best programs for screenwriting collaborations, it's real-time collaboration feature is second to none.

With WriterDuet, a group of writers can work on the same script in real-time without experiencing the hassle of overwrites.

Not only that, but its auto-sync feature allows writers to work from mobile devices as well.

WriterDuet is an affordable program with various pricing plans: Free, Plus, Pro, and Premium. So select a plan, contact your writing partner, and get to it.

Target Audience:

As the name implies, it makes collaborating on a script a simple task. Its affordability makes it the perfect choice for educational institutions as well.

4. Celtx

Key Features:

  • Import capabilities
  • Generates expenses reports
  • Script break down
  • Can be used for video game creation
  • Integrated text editor for just novel writing
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Pre-production management capability

Celtix stands for Crew, Equipment, Location, Talent, and XML. Celtix serves the needs of the project when in production. Their website calls it "team-tailored workflow."

The software takes all aspects of the project and organizes them into one hub.

Is it screenwriting software? Yes. However, its primary function is to act as a transition tool, taking the raw script and turning it into a film.

Consider Celtx a cloud-based tool that bridges the gap between two mediums: The visual narrative's written word.

Here, multiple users can input their contributions in a real-time collaborative environment and via various documents.

Target Audience:

Its organizational ability makes Celtx the perfect choice for use during pre-production, production, and post-production stages.

Video production companies, stage play productions, and video game companies find this tool handy when it comes to time management, collaboration, and video editing.

Youtube content creators and streamers will also find this a nifty tool for organizing their scripts and video content.

5. Final Draft 11

Key Features:

  • Auto-formatting
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Automatic save
  • 300 plus templates
  • SmartType
  • Automatic script formatting to industry standards
  • Provides Beat customization
  • Story mapping
  • Allows for milestone and plot point planning
  • Alternate dialogue storage for various versions
  • Valuable, time-saving keyboard shortcuts
  • Auto backups
  • Multi-lingual, supporting over 97 languages

Final Draft emerged as the industry standard way back in 1990. Developed by Ben Cahan and Marc Madnick, Final Draft won a Prime Time Emmy for Engineering. It's been in the employ of ABC, Pixar, NBC, and more.

It is available for both Windows and Mac and iPhone and iPad. It utilizes text-to-speech, a feature that allows the screenwriter to craft various versions of the same line.

Also featured are a beat board and story map. Try it's 30-day free trial to see if it's a good fit for you.

Target Audience:

Final Draft is considered the king of professional screenwriting programs and can be useful in all production stages.

Theatrical stage plays, comic books, graphic novel creators, video game companies, advertising, and Youtube content creators will also benefit from using Final Draft.

6. Highland 2

Key Features:

  • Reorders scenes and notes
  • Automatic backups
  • An integrated gender analysis tool
  • Sprint feature to track time
  • Automatic formatting mode
  • Updated regularly
  • Auto back up
  • Scratchpad feature for note-taking

Those who find their ideas flow best on a Mac will be happy to learn that the beginner-friendly Highland 2 is available. Film director John August developed this program.

This easy to customize program comes with a free version with basic features only for use on the Mac. Additional features come with the paid version. Great for scripting and creating blog posts, this image friendly software comes with an integrated gender analysis tool.

Target Audience:

Beginner users who use Macs. Terrific when it comes to making blog posts, handling visual media, and handling basic screenwriting tasks.

7. Movie Magic Screenwriter

Key Features:

  • 100 templates
  • Available for Windows and Mac
  • NaviDoc interface
  • Integrated real-time collaboration tools
  • Color coded features
  • Easy to customize projects
  • Text-to-speech feature
  • Notes commander to keep track of ideas

Endorsed by the Writers Guild of America, Movie Magic Screenwriter was released in 1983. Similar to Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter utilizes a NaviDoc interface in place of the beat board and story map.

The NaviDoc includes the outline of the narrative, along with notes and scenes next to the script as you're writing it, which can come in very handy.

What's also convenient is that you can import material you've composed in PDF, MS Word, and Rich Text Files.

Target Audience:

The target audience is filmmakers who work in creating large scale professional productions. These productions are not limited to film, as Movie Magic helps graphic novel production, theatrical productions, video games, Youtube content creators, advertising, and more.

8. KIT Scenarist

Key Features:

  • Multi-platform compatibility: Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS
  • All-in-One research module
  • Integrated card module
  • Integrated formatting tool
  • Multi-lingual
  • Integrated character and set management
  • Integrated statistical feature

When you look at the key features above, it's hard to believe that KIT Scenarist is a free, open-source program. A user-friendly interface that offers high customizability, it updates its software every month.

The tools available to you divide into four modules: Statistics, script, cards, and research. When you wish to write, you turn to the script module. When you want to arrange scenes, go to the card module to refresh your ideas, it's the research module, and for reports, it's the statistics module.

Target Audience:

KIT Scenarist is an excellent application for fictional screenwriters. However, its research module comes in handy for everything from student research papers to writing narration for fact-based documentaries.

9. StudioBinder

Key Features:

  • Call Sheets
  • Script breakdowns
  • Storyboard builder
  • Easy to customize shot lists
  • Has a free version

StudioBinder is an easy to use program. Known to be easy to customize depending on the project, StudioBinder does what its name implies: Takes various studio production elements and makes them accessible on the same platform.

Their website says it all, "The world's leading video, photo, T.V. and film production management software." In other words, film, photo, and video companies now have everything in one spot. We're talking call sheets, script breakdowns, shot lists, storyboards, contacts, shooting schedules, and more.

Target Audience:

Professional productions, post-production houses, video game companies, and advertising. Also an excellent choice for Youtube content creators who need to do some serious video editing. StudioBinder is for anyone who needs to maintain a seamless workflow when working with photos, video, and film.

10. Scrivener

Key Features:

  • Drag and drop
  • Compatible with Mac, iOS, Linux, and Windows
  • Footnote support
  • Corkboard for easy organization
  • Outliner
  • Create collections of related documents
  • Autosaves and backups
  • Snapshot feature

Are you a novelist and would like help getting your book screen ready, or perhaps you're a screenwriter looking to take a novel and turn it into a script? If so, then Scrivener is a program you need to check out.

This hard-working, inexpensive program is easy to use and is similar to what you might expect from Microsoft Word. Its ability to have your research right next to the script you're working on is a tremendous help, especially when working on historical scripts or any script which requires facts to be correct.

Target Audience:

Scrivener is an excellent tool for writers working on documentaries or historical projects. Its multi-platform ability means you can write from anywhere. Scrivener is also a perfect addition to educational institutions. Students will also find it helpful when it comes to composing essays and research papers.

Honorable Mentions

Wrapping Up

With such a rich and varied source of writing from which to choose, screenwriting software is imperative to craft a well written, comprehensive script. These programs come packed with screenwriting software tools, such as call sheet templates, production calendars, index cards, shot lists, and other production tools designed to make the transition from script to film, tv, or video game all the easier. Pick the one that fits best to your needs and start writing!

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