by Catherine Watts
The internet contains a belly of knowledge for any screenwriter looking to learn more about the art and craft of screenwriting. However, what are the available screenwriter tools that can truly utilize for their work in order to develop, write, and market their own scripts? What are the resources that can enhance your screenwriting abilities?
Below are 20 tools that screenwriters can and should utilize regularly when working on a new script idea. Using these resources will offer an extra advantage to any and all screenwriters. Aside from that, it will also allow writers to create the drama script of their dreams or this comedy skit that I can’t get enough of.
Looking to get to help with your screenplays, ideas for possible scripts, and firsthand information from real people? Then look no further than Quora. It can be an invaluable tool for screenwriters and their research. Also, it is often a hub of insider knowledge, information, and perspectives for whatever any topic you can think of.
Several well-known entertainment industry professionals have answered questions on Quora. J.J. Abrams has answered questions on the site. Ashton Kutcher has as well. Working screenwriters, directors, producers, actors, special effects personnel, and many more can be found on the site. The best topics to follow are Movies, Movie Business, and of course, Screenwriting. There is a massive amount of insider information, discussions, threads, and insider perspectives to learn from.
Quora offers a great platform to discuss movies and television and anything to do with the performing arts. Users offer and share Top Ten lists, favorite lists, Best Of lists, etc. It’s a unique way to learn more about movies and television and just enjoy taking part in some amazing discussions by offering answers of your own.
Last but not least, on Quora screenwriters can also improve their own writing skills by writing amazing answers and seeing quick and immediate positive responses as they receive more and more upvotes.
WriterDuet is a screenwriting software for writing and editing screenplays and other forms of mass media. Their motto is “You don’t need to spend $200 just to fit in” and the company’s features prove it values script content over formatting.
For example, WriterDuet has a neat feature to help shorten your script by automatically searching for places where a screenwriter can cut a few lines. The same thing goes for error-checking. The software finds incorrect formatting, typos, characters with similar names and more. Writers can even analyze their script by reviewing statistics on action versus dialogue, density and how characters speak.
WriterDuet also has cloud storage with the ability to save to Dropbox, Drive and hard drive with additional automatic backups.
Cost: Free version available with the ability to upgrade to the Pro version for $11.99 or just $6.60 per month billed annually. Student and teacher pricing is also available at a lower cost.
IMDbPro is the professional version of the great Internet Movie Database and is necessary for all screenwriters. It’s a tool that not only novice screenwriters, but also film and television professionals as a whole, can utilize.
Everyone within the film and television industry uses IMDbPro on a daily basis to check credits. They also checklist their films for marketing purposes, to see who is working on what, to attain contact information, etc. A subscription to IMDbPro.com includes People Directory with contact information, a company directory, an in-production directory, expanded box office data, and much more.
Beyond those features, screenwriters are able to utilize the database. They were also able to look up any and all movies and television programs, and to see who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in them, etc. The comprehensive database offers anyone the ability to check any credit in whatever field of whatever movie, and attain that person’s whole credited resume of projects from the past, present, and future. The same can be said for studios, production companies, agencies, management companies, etc.
Cost: Membership costs $149.99 per year or $19.99 per month. They usually offer a free trial period as well. Once you’ve signed on, you can explore the database and click on any and all credited individuals, companies, etc.
Not just a screenwriter and work on everything from novels to screenplays to articles to fiction? Scrivener’s the best bet.
The popular tool offers formatting options for all of the above, but with the added bonus of being able to visualize scenes that need to be grouped together. Scrivener’s corkboard feature allows a writer to make sense of all the notes and scenes — almost like creating a storyboard.
One downside that I will mention is that while great for character development, research and structure, it’s not compatible with the software producers and directors use to actually turn a script into a movie. The writer may need to convert their screenplay into another format, making it sluggish for last-minute rewrites.
Cost: $45 for Mac, $40 for Windows
If you are anything like me, you may sometimes be guilty of adding one too many clichés into your writing. Luckily, there’s a website for that! Cliche Finder is a tool that sorts through text and highlights the cliches used. From there, it’s your choice whether or not to keep or cut them. With Cliche Finder, any screenwriter can quickly improve their writing and communication skills by identifying and eliminating words, expressions, and phrases that are trite, stale, or overused.
Stephen King once said, “To be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And to Mr. King’s point, there is SimplyScripts. SimplyScripts A database of hundreds of downloadable scripts, movie scripts, screenplays, and transcripts of current, classic and maybe a few soon-to-be-released movies, television, anime, unproduced and radio shows. This website has everything from musicals to Oscar-winning scripts. From Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to every film in The Avengers franchise, SimplyScripts is a database with a lot to choose from. Read the script and then watch the film, working on a script while also taking a break. Who could ask for a better way to hone skills?
Considered by most to be the industry standard, Final Draft is used by successful entertainment industry professional like Matthew Weiner, James Cameron, and J.J. Abrams. It’s the number-one selling screenwriting software in the world, available for Windows, Mac, and iPad.
With Final Draft, writers can create screenplays, stage plays, and teleplays and use one of their 100 templates to help format them. The software even provides glimpses into how shows like Mad Men and How I Met Your Mother were formatted.
Final Draft is an excellent resource, however, it is also the most expensive screenwriting software available, and since it’s been around for a long time, it’s considered a bit of a dinosaur. Amazon reviews called out the latest update as slow and buggy. The tool is still playing catch-up when it comes to cloud storage and online collaboration, so just because it’s the industry standard doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you.
Looking for a tool that does not carry the Final Draft price tag? Celtx is a popular option. Celtx is a media pre-production software, designed for creating and organizing media projects like screenplays, films, videos, stageplays, audio plays, documentaries, machinima, comics, games, and podcasts
The free version of Celtx offers to format for screenplays, storyboards, catalogs and more. The paid versions also work in tandem with its mobile apps so writers can work offline and on-the-go.
Another plus of Celtx is the web-based Celtx Edge. Celtx Edge uses a collaborative model which allows an entire production team or scriptwriting class to collaborate on a project via a browser. Celtx also includes the ability to change formats, so if you’re writing a stage play that you suddenly realize would be great as a short film, Celtx can easily convert between formats.
Cost: Free, with upgrades available for a maximum of $19.99 per month
The WGA West is the labor union that is the home to nearly 12,000 of Hollywood’s leading TV and screenwriters, but you do not need to be a WGAW member to use this vital Guild service.
As the world leader in screenplay registration, the WGAW Registry has been the industry standard in the creation of legal evidence for the protection of writers’ work since 1927. The WGAW Registry assists writers and other creators in establishing the completion dates of material written for the fields of radio, film, television, video, and interactive media.
Registration provides a dated record of the writer’s claim to authorship of a particular literary material. If necessary a WGA employee may produce the material as evidence if legal or official Guild action is initiated. The Writers Guild of America East is affiliated with the Writers Guild of America West. Together the guilds administer the Writers Guild of America Awards.
Cost: Each registration submission costs $20 (or $10 for WGA members in good standing).
Movie Magic is almost as respected as Final Draft, but not quite. It is, however, the official screenwriting software of the Writers Guild of America East.
With Movie Magic, you will be able to automatically format a screenplay, teleplay, or novel to industry standards. But you can quickly change the layout of the interface. It is important so you have as many or few distractions as you want. And unlike Final Draft, you can collaborate with other writers online in real time using iPartner.
Keeping track of a lengthy storyline can be difficult. Or perhaps you’re endeavoring to challenge yourself by making a cinematic universe that links together several different timelines. If so, you might find the web-based timeline software, Timeglider to be a lifesaver.
With Timeglider, screenwriters can create, collaborate, and publish zooming and panning interactive timelines. It’s like Google Maps, but for time. Free for students, this online timeline creator helps you keep everything in place. You can make more important events stand out and write descriptions for events you don’t want to forget about. I will caution, it is sometimes finicky on touch screens.
Cost: Free for students; $5 per month ($50 per year) for teachers, business users, and other enthusiasts; $24 per month for schools, enterprises, and publishers
Billed as “More than just your final draft,” Fade In offers the powerful tools screenwriters expect without a lot of the extra fluff that makes programs like Final Draft slow to learn and use.
As the end credits of a movie, Fade In’s interface is primarily black and white, which is easier on our exhausted writer’s eyes. It also saves your files as plain text, meaning you can open and edit in different applications, or import and export files from Final Draft, Movie Magic and other programs. Fade In is the most compatible and user-friendly of them all.
Fade In also offers robust organization (color-coding, index cards and marking significant sequences), a Dialogue Tuner (to see and edit a single character’s dialogue all in one place) and report downloads (scenes, cast, locations, and more).
The Amazon Storywriter tool is a free cloud-based screenwriting app which makes it great for students, beginners, or artists on a budget. The app, which does everything from automatic formatting to PDF exporting, can be used either on the site or via Chrome app.
It’s best to think of Fountain as markdown for screenwriting. It’s a relatively simple plain text format released under an MIT license. This means you can write your screenplay in any text editor that you have available. Writers can even get Fountain syntax highlighting extensions for writing in Emacs or vim. The actual process of writing a script in Fountain is surprisingly comfortable. It actually helps if you’re already familiar with the basic rules of formatting screenplays. You can tell that it was developed by people who actually write for film and television. Most of the syntax hints are things screenwriters naturally have already built-in as part of their process. Thanks to its open-source license and natural syntax, Fountain has seen very wide and rapid adoption.
It’s available all over the place and used in open source and proprietary applications on just about every platform available. So even if you’re not writing raw Fountain syntax in a text editor, it’s really the best choice of formats for interoperability between screenwriting tools.
Plus, both, Trelby and Afterwriting support Fountain for importing and exporting.
Trelby is simple, fast and elegantly laid out to make screenwriting simple. It is a free and open source screenwriting program which focuses on providing a simple, uncluttered interface to writing screenplays. Also, this is a rebranding of an older program called Blyte. It currently runs on both Windows and Linux platforms.
Some of Trelby’s features include a screenplay editor which enforces correct script format and pagination, auto-completion and spell checking. You have a choice of multiple views, including draft review, WYSIWYG mode, and fullscreen to suit your writing style. It’s multiplatform so the software behaves identically on all platforms, generating the exact same output. Screenwriters can also utilize Trelby’s character name database which contains over 200,000 names from various countries.
Other great features include reports for a scene, locations, characters, and dialogue. Screenwriters can also import and export their screenplay formatted text using numerous programs such as Final Draft XML (.fdx), Celtx (.celtx), Fountain (.fountain), Adobe Story (.astx) and Fade In Pro (.fadein). You can even compare scripts so you know what changed between versions.
Afterwriting (aka ‘Afterwriting) is a place where you can play with some screenwriting tools. Writers can open screenplays written in Fountain format or Final Draft (it will be converted to the fountain). They can also use one of the samples.
There’s an offline version too! Just download the file, unzip and double click on afterwriting.html. It’s a client-side only app. That means your screenplay is never sent out of your PC.
Last but not least, ‘Afterwriting is also available as Command Line Interface.
Screenplain allows you to write a screenplay as a plain text file using Fountain. Text files are simple and supported by all text manipulation software. Additionally, the simplicity of plain text allows you to easily view and edit them on devices such as tablets and phones. There is no need for specific screenwriting software.
The magic that Screenplain performs is to take your plain text file and convert it into a good looking screenplay in an industry standard format. Send that file off to your producer, agent, director or screenwriting competition. Currently, the supported output formats are FDX and HTML. PDF will hopefully be supported in a not too distant future.
Screenplain can also be used as a command-line application or a library.
Screenwriters want to write. They don’t want to be bothered with software licenses, how many computers they’re allowed to use their writing software on, or silly features they’ll never use.
Screenwriter-mode is a plug-in for GNU Emacs, a free, cross-platform, text editor.
Among the first companies devoted to writing and filmmaking to have an Internet presence, The Writers Store now boasts three popular sites. The first, WritersStore.com, was created with the idea that an online store would allow anyone the world over to same access to tools used by successful Hollywood writers.
This same visionary talent led the Writers Store to start Screenwriters University, an online creative writing school that delivers easy, affordable instruction from world-renowned educators and authors of the craft. Building on the idea of a creative cooperative that began with Screenwriters University, we next focused on creating an online directory and script-selling forum. The result is our Screenwriting Directory website, an online marketplace that connects screenwriters and Industry professionals seeking new projects.
The Writers Store not only offers the three websites I already mentioned, but it also sells a number of useful software programs for screenwriters. Popular story development software includes Dramatica Pro, a step-by-step guide to the storytelling process, Contour, a character-based structuring system, and Save the Cat!, a program centered on successful screenwriter Blake Snyder’s own proven methods.
And if you want a program that combines story development and formatting? Check out Movie Outline, an all-in-one development package that uses step-outlining to build your story, scene-by-scene, and Montage, which includes both outline and submission tracking functions.
Cost: Price varies for all products and services
As a screenwriter, you need to know who is who within the film and television industry. It is also important to know what projects are being developed, produced, and distributed. If you don’t know what’s happening in the industry that you are trying to break into, you won’t have too much success in breaking through.
People learn what screenwriters are getting jobs by reading the trades daily. Also how they were discovered, what they’ve worked on, and more important, who is representing them. Anyone can learn the trends that are hitting the film industry. Therefore you can learn what future genres to consider writing, and more important, what not to write.
The most popular trade journals for screenwriters and other Hollywood/performing arts professionals include The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline Hollywood Variety, The Tracking Board, and The Wrap. Once you start reading the trades, you’ll see that there are many, many more powers that be out there. The trades will give you key information that will open so many more possible doors for you in your search of that opportunity screenwriters so covet — getting the powers that be to read their script.
Cost: Varies for each membership
In a cutthroat industry that will literally throw away your screenplay if it doesn’t have the correct margins, you’ll want to use tools that can help you with every stage of your screenwriting process. So whether you’re a writers room regular or a student working solo, find the tools that make the most sense for you, learn them well, and stick with it!
These screenwriters tools are extremely valuable for writers as mentioned before. Knowledge is power and these tools can be used to attain the knowledge you need. That’s the true secret to success in the art, craft, and business of screenwriting. Stay tuned to my upcoming blog posts! Learn more tools, tips, and tricks to help you become a more successful screenwriter and artist in general.[mc4wp_form id=”1272″]