WHAT’S THE BEST SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE?
I recently reviewed Final Draft 11 here. It’s good software and I gave it a good review. It’s not perfect, but I don’t know any software that is (except maybe Photoshop). But I ran into a few issues recently that caused me to check into other screenwriting software.
That’s when I found Fade In (version 3).
Individual screenwriters have different needs. Show runners may want complex production features. New writers may only need basic screenplay formatting. And then there is everyone in between.
I’m not going to go over Fade In’s specific screenwriting functions in detail. If you are seriously looking for professional screenwriting software you already know that this type of software automatically formats screenplays with scene headings, action, character names, parentheticals, dialogue and transitions. They have revision functions for colored pages, A-pages, and asterisks for script changes. They handle MORE’s and CONTD’s. They have scene navigators to show you where you are in the script and easily move scenes around or delete them. They number scenes and dialogue. They make reports. They export to PDF and import and export other script writing software formats. And a lot more. Fade In does all of these just as well as Final Draft. You can check all of Fade In’s features here.
Even though I am a professional screenwriter of features and TV, in most cases I only need basic formatting. I occasionally need revision marks when writing series episodes, and sometimes need to embed an image when describing something that might get lost in translation when being animated overseas. I find the navigation panel helpful in keeping track of scenes and moving about in scripts. Beyond that, I don’t need most of the bells and whistles, and chances are you won’t either. Both Final Draft and Fade In have all of these and much more. Final Draft is a bit more robust than Fade In, but the only thing I have found missing in Fade In is split screen view where you can look at two spots in the same script. But the folks at Fade In have informed me that this will be in a future upgrade.
Several of the issues I had with Final Draft that caused me to look elsewhere were intolerable.
- Final Draft would often crash, sometimes as much as once a day. You have no idea how frustrating it is to work hard on a scene only to have the program suddenly vanish from my screen along with the scene I just wrote. I have been using Fade In for a few months and it has not crashed once.
- Final Draft took as long as 20 seconds to auto-save. Auto-save is vital if you want to protect your work from sudden crashes. Final Draft will auto-save every 3 minutes (fastest setting) so you can’t lose more than 3 minutes of work. But I could not tolerate stopping my creative flow for 20 seconds every 3 minutes. This issue was a deal breaker for me. Fade In auto-saves so fast I can’t even see it happen.
- Final Draft took 30 seconds to load. I can live with this. But I can live happier with Fade In which takes just 10 seconds.
- Final Draft’s highlighter did not work consistently. Most of the time it would highlight in the wrong color. It would even occasionally highlight in black (trust me, you don’t want your scripts to look like a redacted document). Fade In’s highlighter hasn’t given me any problems.
- I had a similar issue with Final Draft’s font colors. The colors would be wrong, or it wouldn’t change the color at all. I use font colors to designate scenes that need editing. Again, no issues with font color in Fade In.
- With Final Draft I had occasional trouble creating PDFs when it didn’t like my file name. No such issue with Fade In.
- I was also disappointed that the Final Draft upgrade from Final Draft 10 changed how the shortcut keys worked so that I could no longer use all of my shortcut keys. Trust me, once you get used to your shortcut keys you don’t like anything messing with them. Fade In not only allowed me to use all of my shortcut keys it imported them from Final Draft.
Final Draft customer service was terrific. They replied to all of my emails and worked with me in an attempt to solve these problems. But they were unable to solve them. They said they had never run into several of them before. That may be. But it is disappointing and upsetting when a software provider cannot solve problems. And in case you’re wondering if it might have been my system, I was using a brand new, Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with a 250-gig solid-state hard drive, 8 gigs of RAM and the latest Intel i5 quad-core processor. This is total overkill for a simple screenwriting program. And the computer was only 4 months old running smoothly with all other software.
(By the way, if you or a screenwriter you know has used Final Draft and run into any of the above program bugs please let me know. I am interested to find out whether these are common problems or just unique to me.)
Having road tested Fade In I found other things I liked better about the program than Final Draft.
- The interface is cleaner, simpler and more aesthetic.
- It can export navigator scene descriptions to a csv file so that you can use it in other programs. This can be handy for making summaries of your script.
- I found it hard to read Final Draft’s header/footer window because the type was too small. It was much easier with Fade In.
- I have written several screenplays in which I referenced specific music, either for a character to sing or to go under a scene. In Final Draft I had to type the URL in the script, create a PDF file, then open that file in another PDF editing program and add a hyperlink to the URL. In Fade In I simply type the URL, highlight it and then use a pull-down menu to hyperlink it. I also found this very helpful when writing animation scripts and I want to use URLs to reference character designs, background or prop ideas.
- Both Final Draft and Fade In have scene navigators. These are lists of sequential scenes with Scene Headings and page numbers. What I like about Final Draft’s navigator is that it’s easier to add a title to each scene such as “Luke battles Darth”. You can do this in Fade In’s navigator by right clicking a scene and clicking on Add Synopsis. Whatever you write will appear in the navigator beneath the Scene Heading. What I like better about Fade In’s navigator is that it not only shows page numbers it shows the length of the scenes in 1/8ths of a page and allows you to nest scenes into sequences. It also allows you to delete, copy or move scenes around, individually or in bunches. In Final Draft you have to be in index card mode to do this. It is also more difficult to place Final Draft’s scene navigator into the optimal position. Whereas Fade In’s navigator is automatically placed at the right of the screen with the screenplay at the left (this can be modified), Final Draft’s navigator must be moved and sized to get it into the ideal position. However, it then partially covers the script. You have to then split the screen vertically and adjust the script portion to the left. It’s not difficult to do, but I did find myself doing this each time I started a new screenplay. With Fade In you simply adjust the script to the preferred zoom size, then drag the left side of the navigator wherever you want it. Bingo!
- If you write animated TV scripts like I often do it is now customary for studios to request dialog numbering. Final Draft does this, but it is much easier in Fade In. You simply click on Production > Dialog Numbers > Dialog Numbering > OK and you get dialog numbers in parentheses at the left margin of each CHARACTER name. If you want them up against the character name you simply add 20 spaces in the Dialog Number Format box. You can modify the format in other ways if you like.
- And Fade In has a nice little app that Final Draft doesn’t. It’s called the Dialogue Tuner. It puts all of a character’s dialogue in one continuous list so you can go over it more easily and ensure that every line is in character.
I’ve been working with Fade In now for a few months. I just finished writing a screenplay with it—not a spec, but a paid assignment for a studio. So, I gave it a real serious test drive. And I like the way it drives. So much so that it is now my go-to screenwriting software.
Final Draft has a few more bells and whistles like Beat Board and Story Map, but as a pro I never used these. Some writers may find them helpful, but I find other programs as good or better. I use notepad to write short scenes while I’m writing the script in Fade In (and I’m told by the Fade in folks that they are looking at adding a note-taking feature in a future upgrade). I also use Excel to organize story beats (see my post about this here).
Even if you have an employer who insists you send in fdx files you can export your Fade In files to fdx. So, there is really no reason a writer has to have Final Draft.
For those without showrunner salaries here’s the good news: Fade In is a lot cheaper. It’s currently $79.95. Final Draft 11 is $249.99. You can download a free, fully functional demo version of Fade In here. It has all the functions of the paid program except for collaboration and an annoying popup that appears quite often asking you to buy it. And you should!
Bottom line: Fade In is good enough for pros. So, if you’re not a pro it’s more than good enough for you. I will be using it from now on (or until Final Draft makes some major improvements and wins me back).