Lights, camera, action
Screenwriters may not get the same kind of acclaim (or money) as directors, but if you don't have a script, you don't have a movie. (Or a TV show, video game or comic book.) As any Hollywood executive can tell you, though, formatting a screenplay is much more complicated than formatting a novel or a short story. You'll need to learn the ins and outs of setting scenes, introducing characters and spacing out dialogue — or you can get some software to do all that for you. These programs take the guesswork out of screenplay formatting, removing an important obstacle between you and the big screen.
Amazon has made an application for just about everything else, so why not screenwriting? Amazon Storywriter is a bare-bones web application, but it gets the job done. All you need is an Amazon account, and you can dive right into Storywriter and create as many projects as you like. There are no templates, no collaborative features, no storyboards, no analytics and no celebrity endorsements — but there's also no cost, so take it for what it's worth. The program will automatically format your screen directions and characters as you write, like any good screenwriting software.
Page 2 Stage
If you're a DIY coder in addition to a screenwriter, you'll love Page 2 Stage. This free software is completely open-source, which means that if there's a feature you want, you can try to program it yourself. Coincidentally, that self-sufficiency will serve you well, because there's no customer support for the program either. Page 2 Stage will help you format a screenplay, like any good screenwriting software, and it supports 30 languages — including Hebrew and Arabic, so it's not bound by the Latin alphabet. There's not much else to say about the program, really, which probably suits its taciturn developers just fine.
Credit: Page 2 Stage
Most paid screenwriting programs have some kind of collaborative feature, but WriterDuet assumes you're going to be working on a script with a partner for every step of the process. The program logs every time a writer makes an edit, then lets you filter according to who wrote it, when he or she edited it, and which line underwent changes. In addition to permitting real-time collaborative writing and editing, WriterDuet will format your screenplay for you, let you devise an outline, and then export it to either Final Draft or PDF format once you're done. While the basic program is free, the collaborative features will set you back $150.
Celtx is one of the most prominent Final Draft alternatives, and with good reason: It's free — sort of. If all you want to do is write a screenplay, start to finish, you can use Celtx for free. However, the program can get quite expensive if you need a full suite of professional capabilities, such as episodic scriptwriting, storyboarding and cost reports. Still, if you're willing to dish out up to $40 per month, you can get an impressively versatile program, which allows you to turn a spec script into a shooting script, figure out a schedule, and even let your clients review and approve changes.Credit: Celtx
The Mac-centric Montage is sort of the midpoint between the minimalist, free Celtx and the full-featured, expensive Final Draft. Montage (which costs $30 for a single activation) doesn't have celebrity endorsements or hundreds of templates, but it will format your script for you. The program will even use different colors to help you keep settings, scene directions, character names and dialogue all distinct from one another. You can write movies, TV shows, video games or graphic novels, then export your work to either PDF or a Final Draft format. (It's rather telling that "export to Final Draft" is one of Montage's major selling points, but again, it's only $30.)
Credit: Mariner Software
Scrivener isn't for screenwriting exclusively. But many a Starbucks-swilling, Mac-owning, mustache-waxing hipster has discovered that the stylish word-processing program is versatile enough to handle projects for the silver screen. (Scrivener's URL is "literatureandlatte.com," people. I'm sorry. The truth hurts.) All joking aside, though, Scrivener is a beautifully straightforward program, and its screenwriting template is perfectly serviceable, complete with automatic formatting, helpful keyboard shortcuts, and even index cards to help keep track of scene progression and edits. You probably shouldn't run out and buy Scrivener just to write screenplays, but if you already own the software, it's worth a shot before you purchase something else.
Fade In is a more recent addition to the screenwriting canon, but it's already attracted some tremendous talent: Rian Johnson, Gary Whitta, Ken Levine, Craig Mazin and more. First things first: If you're a screenwriter who uses a Linux system (all six or seven of you), Fade In is one of the few programs that will run on your OS. You can also insert Unicode characters and images, which could be particularly useful when dealing with screenplays that involve Asian languages. At $80 for the entire package, it's also a good bit cheaper than some of the other leading programs.
Credit: Fade In
Final Draft 10
Depending on whom you ask, Final Draft 10 is either the alpha and omega of screenwriting software or an overpriced dinosaur that's coasting on reputation. No one can argue, however, that Final Draft 10 is the industry-standard screenwriting program. Some of Hollywood's most famous names swear by it: J.J. Abrams, Robert Zemeckis, James L. Brooks, James Cameron, Sofia Coppola — the list goes on. The program automatically formats your screenplay, of course, but it can also analyze your script, read it out loud and help you collaborate with co-writers online. There are even built-in templates for popular shows like Empire, Game of Thrones and The Simpsons.
Credit: Final Draft
Movie Magic Screenwriter
Although Movie Magic Screenwriter works on Windows, this program is definitely more for the Mac crowd. One of the more-expensive programs, at $250, Movie Magic Screenwriter does its very best to earn its high price. Endorsements for the program tend to come from workaday writers and directors, such as Evan Katz, Manny Coto, Paul Haggis and Michael Goldenberg — and there's something to be said for a kind word from everyday screenwriters rather than unapproachable visionaries. The program has more than 100 templates and can import PDFs, formatting them automatically as it does so. Prewriters will also like its comprehensive outline feature.
Credit: Write Brothers
BONUS: Microsoft Word
Let's get this out of the way right up front: Microsoft Word is not a very good screenwriting program. It won't format anything for you automatically; it won't track your scenes or characters, and it won't run analytics. However, the program does come with a built-in screenplay template, and the template is, visually speaking, accurate. If you manage to write a whole screenplay (probably through judicious copying and pasting of template formatting) and export it to PDF format, no one will be able to tell the difference. While it would probably be infuriating to write a feature-length screenplay this way, MS Word could work for a short script, in a pinch.