Admittedly, I started using Final Draft 9 on a whim. I've never written an actual screenplay before, but as a novelist and storyteller, I was curious about the process. Final Draft is considered to be an industry standard, so it was the first screenwriting program I considered using.
As with any of my reviews, I prefer to start with the less desirable elements first. In the case of Final Draft, the main complaint is the price. I think that this is one of the first things most people see, so it can be a bit off-putting to see screenwriting software selling for $199.99 for Mac through the Apple Store and for $249.99 directly through the Final Draft website. There are discounts available if you meet certain criteria, but that's the base cost of the program. To invest such an amount of money in your program had better be worth it, right?
Well, it is.
Of course, I'm not an expert, but not being a professional actually gives me a good perspective on the usability of the software, as I've never written a screenplay before. At a minimum of $200, the software should make things easier for the user, correct?
That is exactly what Final Draft does.
In my research regarding screenplays, having a good story is not the only requirement. There are industry standard formats regarding screenplays that are essential for submission. In other words, even the greatest screenplay ever written could be rejected at the sight of the cover page, simply because the formatting is not correct. Screenplays themselves have a certain accepted organization, formatting, and order so that they are universal among those reading and working on them. If you look up the standards regarding spacing, alignment, and even capitalization for screenplays, just writing two pages can seem daunting.
With Final Draft, all of that is forgotten. Final Draft takes care of all of the formatting for you. Once you open a file, you get an open page that can seem quite directionless. However, a blank page is all a writer needs, and every element required for the vast majority of screenplays is selectable in the lower left corner of your screen, as shown in the following picture:
As you can see, there are several elements within a screenplay, and each has their own formatting. These elements include General, Scene Heading, Action, Character, Parenthetical, Dialogue, Transition, Shot, and Cast List. Other than the cover page, these are the basic elements of a screenplay, and in order to have the proper formatting for each element, Final Draft has put them into a selectable area in the left lower portion of the screen. For example, if you are starting a scene, you must first place a Scene Heading, which is why this is the default for when you open a new page in Final Draft. As is apparent in the same photo above, "Scene Heading" is already selected. In the image below, I have made up the title of the scene, and Final Draft automatically put what I wrote into the correct formatting:
Also worth noting in this pic is that in the Side Bar, my scene has automatically been saved for choosing later on, should the story return to "In A Dark Forest." Once I hit "enter," Final Draft moves automatically to the next logical element of a screenplay after the Scene Heading, the "Action." This is where the non-dialogue portion of the story is written. I did not have to select "Action" in order for this portion to be formatted correctly. By simply pressing "Enter" on my keyboard, the program switched it over for me. In the picture below, I have written some action for my story:
The action is formatted correctly, automatically. Then, by pressing "Enter" again, I can either continue to describe my action, or if you look in the lower left corner, the program tells me that I can select "Tab" on my keyboard in order to designate a character that will be speaking. In this next picture, I have done just that:
And then, if you look in the left lower corner, once I've named my character, hitting "Enter" again automatically changes the formatting for writing dialogue. After writing a little bit of dialogue, I can then choose which element to add next, and I have a picture of my dialogue and an open box of all the elements to choose from pictured below:
If you hit "Enter" one too many times, this box will open up, asking you which element you are trying to insert, and you can choose one just by typing the letter corresponding to each element (as pictured: "G, S, A, C, P, D, T"). With these typing shortcuts automatically in place, the author of the screenplay never has to stop using the keyboard in order to get a perfectly formatted screenplay ready for submission. I went ahead and finished one page of my marvelous screenplay (not at all) so you can see what a final page looks like. I never had to stop typing, and I never used a mouse for any of the work. Final Draft added all of the little necessities on its own (such as the word "Continued" in parentheses in the lower right corner). Here is the page of my "masterpiece:"
The truth is that the power of Final Draft comes in everything it does for you as a writer to keep your focus on the writing itself. It automatically formats, corrects, and reviews everything you've written. Even when saving your work, it asks if it can review all of your formatting. Once it does, it can find all of your errors and fix them automatically. It is truly a writer's tool.
And once you finish a screenplay, Final Draft can reformat it to suit the needs of other studios' preferred formats. Final Draft is used by top studios worldwide, including BBC, MGM, NBC Universal, Paramount, ABC, Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Walt Disney Pictures. If you are submitting your script to any of these studios (and more), the program will automatically format your screenplay in order to suit the submission guidelines for each studio. I find that incredibly impressive.
Additionally, Final Draft is not just for film screenplays. It can help you write and format graphic novels, general scripts, text documents, plays, and television screenplays. All you have to do is select the "Templates" tab at the top of the screen and then choose what you are writing. Then all you have to do is write. Final Draft takes care of the rest.
Once I started using Final Draft, I realized on my own that it can also be used as a powerful organizational tool for novelists. As it simplifies the story into several categories of elements and follows a natural progression of action, the program itself can help a novelist organize thoughts and scenes before turning them into flowing prose. This is an unintended perk and use for the program that I enjoy on a personal level.
Although it has a price tag that might make people think twice, I would like to say that the program is worth every penny for the serious writer. It saves time, it does the formatting work for you, it keeps your brain focused on the story, it automatically saves your work, it has an accompanying app for smartphones for when you get a spark of inspiration on the go...I find it hard to complain about the program at all.
With its power, simplicity, and its focus on putting the writer first, I would say that Final Draft is essential software for any serious screenwriter.
In order to reinforce my claim that the software is simple and user-centric, I have included a video below, Final Draft's Quick Start Tutorial. Enjoy!