News on the Screenwriting Tools Battle Front
It seems like an eternity since the last update of Final Draft, but in fact it’s only (!) been 4 years — which is an eternity in a time when Firefox and Chrome seem to update nearly weekly.
During this time, Celtx has developed a suite of (semi-)integrated screenwriting tools; Adobe has developed Story as part of its Creative Cloud; screenwriter John August and others have developed the Fountain markup language as the foundation for a number of new authoring tools; cloud storage has become de rigueur due to Dropbox and other services; and script composition on the iPad and other tablets has become increasingly desirable.
But Final Draft 9 is actually on the horizon … due mid-Fall 2013 barring surprises in the beta testing. The upgrade was delayed due to the complete recoding of Final Draft necessitated by Mac OS upgrading back in 2011.
I had a chance to see the new beta version of Final Draft (FD) at the just-concluded University of Film and Video Association (UFVA) conference.
Final Draft 9 is a very incremental upgrade, even after 4 years — implementing features other programs have had for some time. Loglines and synopses can now be embedded in the script file (something Celtx has been able to do since its inception), and at last, colored pages will be displayed onscreen once you’ve locked the script and begun production sets of changes (something Movie Magic Screenwriter has been doing for over a decade).
The biggest improvements seem to be in FD’s outlining and index card features: new templates, more scene metadata, an improved scene navigator, character arc tracking and more. In the past, it was often the case that you’d develop all your outlines and beat sheets in Microsoft Word or a Google Drive text document, then move to FD (although FD has long had an outline template available for use). Script development in a single FD document now seems more viable (the document becomes more of a project file, a la Celtx).
I’m pleased that Final Draft 9 has improved display implementation of the ScriptNotes feature: I always hated the tiny boxes flagging notes. To me, Movie Magic Screenwriter’s yellow-highlighted comments have always been the best, and Celtx’s “sticky note” annotations worked pretty well. FD’s new version now uses colored flags outside the margins to indicate notes — much easier to rapidly spot onscreen.
Administratively, it’s now going to be possible to “push” FD out to multiple networked computers, rather than having to individually activate the license for each seat — good news for schools.
The last big change in Final Draft 9 won’t really come to life until 2014: Final Draft Connect, which will be their cloud service. The details are still murky (how much storage space, whether FD users can share viewing privileges with non-FD users, etc.), but versioning will be a feature, and overall this feature is really good news — long overdue. Final Draft Connect will simplify going back-and-forth between the Final Draft Writer iPad app and FD on the laptop.
Looking ahead, Final Draft 10 may be including the following:
- even more robust editing history that will time stamp every keystroke and its author, possibly making WGA arbitrations easier because of the hard data this will provide;
- a fully browser-based authoring environment (like Celtx and Adobe Story);
- the return of dual-column A/V scripting tools
But don’t make any bets on when Final Draft 10 may emerge, based on past history.
Though incremental, these upgrades should continue to maintain FD’s dominance in mainstream Hollywood. As a professional screenwriter whose assignments are in that world, FD is still a critical tool. At the same time, FD remains much more tied to a non-digital workflow, despite some unmentioned incremental additions that digitize some of the delivery just a little bit more. One of the reasons I wrote Mastering Celtx is because I think Celtx offers a very viable (although not perfect) set of authoring and pre-production tools for low-budget productions and ad-hoc production teams.
Ultimately, screenwriters should be prepared to work with any screenwriting solution. The questions to ask are: 1) what’s the best tool for the job? and 2) what tool is best for the production team?
The FD file format (essentially XML) remains unchanged, and this means scripts can be edited both in 8 and 9 with no harm done (some of the version 9 metadata simply won’t display in version 8, but it will remain in the file).
Final Draft has no plans to upgrade its Tagger software in conjunction with the version 9 release, further underscoring the incremental nature of the upgrade. I would love to see Tagger integrated with the main package, but I’m not sure Final Draft will ever do that. Traditionally, professional screenwriters had nothing to do with breaking down scripts (I’ve never done it in my career) — but in today’s changed production environment, I think pre-production tasks need greater integration. That said, most FD users will never have firsthand involvement with production, so I can see the other side of this argument.
Final Draft 9 is not expected to trigger any significant update of its iPad app; interestingly, some of the new version 9 functionality is already baked into the app. The company has no plans to develop an Android app: too many possible screen sizes, and too many Android variants.
A caveat on this post is that I was viewing a beta version of Final Draft 9; features can always be dropped on the way to a finalized version.
I spoke to a Write Bros. (developer of Movie Magic Screenwriter) exec, and he said they’re working on both an iPad app and an upgrade to Movie Magic Screenwriter 6. However, no timeline was suggested for releases. The new Final Draft upgrade probably only puts added pressure on Write Bros., as the market share for Movie Magic Screenwriter has been declining over the years.
Will Final Draft’s Fall upgrade trigger an accelerated round of screenwriting tool advancement? We can only hope!
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