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Issue 9.6


Profile: Movie Draft SE

Issue: 9.6 (September/October 2011)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 8,319
Starting Page Number: 20
Article Number: 9605
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Like most of us, what I really want to do is direct. I've been dabbling in screenplays and amateur filmmaking for years. A while back when I got "serious" about it, I actually forked out $300 for Final Draft, the top screenwriting software out there. It seemed outrageously expensive, but screenplays are specialty items and everything I read said that you can't get anyone in Hollywood to even look at your screenplay if it's not in the correct format. Over the years I was pestered for $100 upgrades and I upgraded it once or twice, but I resented it because I wasn't really using the software and I certainly wasn't making any money writing screenplays. I wished there was a cheaper alternative for the amateur like me.

Now along comes Mark O'Neill who has used Real Studio to create a beautiful thing: a lovely and simple screenplay editor that's sold on the Mac App Store for a steal at just $30 (that is the introductory price, but even double that would be extremely reasonable).

This application is impressive any way you look at it. It's beautiful and functional with a nice iTunes-like title bar at the top, and a two-pane scene list and script window below that (you can hide the scene list if you want and there's even a full screen editing mode that hides everything but your script). You can easily have it mimic the keyboard shortcuts of Final Draft or Movie Magic, and you can customize the look of the pages (see Figure 1).

Like most screenwriting programs, the software automatically formats your text appropriately as you type—you just tell it what type of element you're writing (a location, character name, parenthetical instruction, dialog, etc.). The program uses an auto-complete feature so just typing the first few letters of a location or character name will show you the complete name grayed out (just press tab or return to accept it). It's also intelligent and knows that after you type a character name, dialog is the next most likely text so it sets that mode when you get there.

There's a built-in character editor where you can add a description, photo, and weblinks for each character, as well as setting characteristics such as male/ female and age. You can do the same for locations, though with slightly different settings.

Scenes are displayed on a scene list, and you can change how they are displayed in several ways, from showing or hiding descriptions and assigned icons, to switching the display to a card view (see Figure 2). Cards show up on a lovely cork background and can easily be rearranged by dragging. The view is a single list of cards, however, so dragging around hundreds of scenes isn't ideal. It would be nicer if there were a multi-column display for that function.

I mentioned scene icons and that's an interesting feature: you can add icons to any scene as a way of reminding you what that scene is about. There are hundreds of icons included in the program to choose from, or you can use your own graphics. You could assign a question mark to scenes you're still struggling with, for instance, or put a hospital icon on the key scene where your hero ends up hospitalized. These icons aren't a part of your script, per se, but they can help you stay organized. It's a neat idea.

If you've started your screenplay in another program, you can import your previous work in Final Draft, Microsoft Word, SceneWriter Pro, and plain text formats. I ran into some limitations such the fact that Final Draft documents must be in the .fdx format, not an earlier version—but when I opened my long screenplay document, it worked great. One important detail is that you can export your finished screenplay in Final Draft v8 format. Most Hollywood producers want your screenplay in that format so that's critical.

The program is full of subtle touches that reveal how much thought went into the software. For instance, on the toolbar there's a "Single" button that toggles between showing you all the pages in your script or just a single scene (which can help you focus). You can also hide scenes in your scene list and they won't show up in the script (they display grayed out in the list). This can allow you to create alternate versions of scenes to see how a different ending might work, for instance.

One unique feature I love is that at the bottom of the scene list it shows you the length of time of the current scene and the total script (films usually estimate one minute of screen time per script page so it's approximate, but it is helpful to give you an idea of where you are in the film and the length of each scene).

Movie Draft is extremely solid for a new release. I did have it quit on me once; another time there was a visual glitch or two. I also ran into issues with the scene list where just clicking seemed to move items around, as it seems unduly sensitive (undo worked to restore the scenes to their proper order). In general the program works great and I can't wait to find some time to actually work on my screenplay using it (I just played around with it for this review). I must confess that though I'm a long-time Final Draft user, Movie Draft felt smoother, simpler, and more Mac-like. (Sometimes Final Draft still feels like a port from Mac OS 8.) It's definitely ideal for dabblers like me. If you've balked at the price of Final Draft, give Movie Draft a try (there's a demo on the developer's website).

In terms of improvements, I'd love it if the "previous/next" buttons functioned more like back/forward buttons in a browser—so you could follow the path of where you've been in the document. Right now they just take you to the previous or next scene which isn't as useful. It would also be nice if Movie Draft supported OS X Lion's auto-save and reopen features—when it quit on me it lost the open document I'd been playing with (just a copy of the included demo script). Being able to open more than one document at a time would also be helpful.

The bottom line is that this is a fantastic five-star program whether it is written in Real Studio or not. The fact that it is should inspire all of us!

End of article.