In filmmaking, it all begins with a script, and today, a script all begins with a screenwriting app. There are a number of great choices to get an industry-standard formatted script, from word processor templates to iPhone apps. Most apps also provide the ability to break down your script by scenes, create shot lists and more, with some offering tools to help make your story even better.
We’re looking at some of the top choices for screenwriting apps, but we’re not ranking by features and usability. We determined the best screenwriting apps by consulting with users and developers, and we are presenting them to you in order of appearance.
The Editors’ Choice award recognizes exceptional video production equipment, software and services. These products must help videographers be more effective storytellers while being affordable, easy to use and dependable. The products must also deliver a superior user experience.
The opening act
Movie Magic Screenwriter
Before the 1980s, writing a screenplay was tedious work. You had to use a typewriter and set your tabs to the right place for your characters, dialogue, and transitions. That all changed with the introduction of Scriptor in 1982. Stephen Greenfield is one of the creators and the President of Write Brothers, Inc. He says, “Original — and the best. 41 years in the software business is an unheard-of eternity. Beginning in 1986, Screenplay Systems expanded from Scriptor to Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling, which quickly became industry standards for production worldwide. At one point, 95 percent of Oscar-nominated movies used one of our three programs!”
In 1994, they developed some new tools, Dramatica Pro and Dramatica Story Expert; these are sold separately. These are story structure tools that assist writers in developing underlying structures. Amazingly, these will analyze your story structure and tell you how to enhance that structure for maximum dramatic effect. Stephen adds that another tool was added in the early 2000s, “We developed another patented software tool, StoryView (now known as Outline 4D), which is kind of like a non-linear editor for stories. It lets you lay out the pieces of a story based on the approximated time/space available in the story – either by time or pages.”
Always seeking to add value to the industry, Movie Magic never stops developing tools. It recently added Streamline, which scans the script and can suggest where to make small edits that might significantly reduce the page count. As a result, Movie Magic Screenwriter has numerous industry professionals among its biggest fans, including Trey Parker, creator of “South Park” (1997 – present), writer Callie Khouri of “Thelma & Louise” (1991), “Respect” (2021), “Nashville” (2012) and writer David Koepp of “Kimi” (2022), “The Mummy” (2017) and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008).
Perhaps the most well-known screenwriting app is Final Draft. It was introduced in 1990 and rose to the top. Its website claims 95 percent of Film and Television productions use it. Some would hesitate to call it the industry standard, but most other apps have a feature to import and export FDX, Final Draft’s native file format.
Ryan Swanson is one of the writers for “The Chosen,” and he tells us, “I’m a Final Draft user and have been for more than 20 years. I tried [another app] for a bit and found it to be intuitive. In the end, I was too used to FD and returned to it. Plus, collaboration is essential for screenwriting — among partners as well as different departments — and so I’ve found it helpful to have an industry standard.”
Final Draft also has lots of additional features. There are tools for scene and location breakdowns and even a format assistant to ensure everything is laid out correctly. Another great feature is the Beat Board. This is a blank space that allows you to drop in notes, ideas, research, even images. These can be connected with lines and rearranged to keep your story in flow. The elements can later become outline points you can overlay on your script but will remain unprinted on the final copy.
The mobile version of the software is a real standout. While it’s a stripped-down version with only the word processing functions, it is free. Saving files in the cloud allows for seamless use with the full desktop version. If you get some inspiration on the go, it’s a simple way to make those changes.
The one for all seasons
Introduced in 2000, Celtx stands for Crew, Equipment, Location, Talent XML. It was packed full of tools and originally designed for the independent producer. It was one of the few to offer a free, full-featured scriptwriting application, which is still available. Additionally, there are tools for budgeting, call sheets, shot lists, storyboards, and more. Most are available on a monthly, tiered subscription-based system, which means you can add features as your production progresses.
Brian Levant is a writer, director, producer, educator, and author. He’s a fan of the collaboration tools in Celtx: “In our courses at the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico, with a dozen students working collectively and in small groups, we create, develop, write and rewrite an original network streaming-style program in only 42 hours of class time. One of the keys to our program’s success has been Celtx’s unique features that allow multiple individuals to write together simultaneously, in real time, anytime.”
Last year, Celtx was acquired by Backlight, but founder and current general manager of Celtx, Mark Kennedy, tells us the commitment remains. “In the time since Celtx has been part of Backlight, we have continued to innovate on our cloud-based toolsets that help storytellers create some of the most engaging entertainment, video, and gaming experiences possible. And now as Backlight, there is a huge opportunity to bring creative workflow scale to our customers.”
Backlight Celtx Software Development Manager Christina Sitkowski adds, “With our constant focus on creators, we continue to enhance our story development and screenwriting features. With the latest mobile and desktop rollout of new Beat Boards functionality, the Celtx goal is simple: meet writers where they are in their creative journey.”
Celtx has a web-based interface and is a great screenwriting app for mobile users. Christina adds that we can expect more for mobile: “Our new progressive web application offers an improved experience over our previous apps, and we’re committed to developing more routes for mobile users to enjoy Celtx.”
Price: Starts at $15 per month or $148 annually
The director’s cut
Fade In was first released in 2011. At the time, Kent Tessman, the app’s developer, saw a need for something else: “The short story is that I am the writer-director of a couple of independent features, as well as a former Final Draft user. At some point a while back, I began wondering why that screenwriting software wasn’t better — in terms of stability, consistency, and overall functionality — which led me to wonder just how hard it could possibly be to make something better, which led to me starting to develop something, which led… well, a bunch of years and a lot of work and input from professional and field-testing on a growing number of big-budget films, HBO series, network shows, etc., later, here we are.”
The scriptwriting software has gotten some rave reviews from the likes of the Hollywood Reporter” and the “New York Times.” On its website, you’ll find reviews from industry insiders like writer/director Rian Johnson of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (2022), who had this to say about the app, “Fade In has everything you’d want from screenwriting software. It’s stable, elegant, stable, full-featured, stable, affordable and stable.”
Some of the features include A/V script support and the ability to change page colors in revised versions, which none of the other apps include. Fade In is available on iOS and Android and has one of the more robust collaboration features. Multiple collaborators can work on the same script simultaneously, and the changes are reflected in each person’s view in real-time. Like the others, there are tools for breakdowns, reports and multiple platform outputs.
Arc Studios was introduced in 2018 and has relied heavily on feedback from industry insiders for its development. A representative from Arc Studio that oversees marketing and tells us, “Arc Studio was founded to show that we can do so much better. We researched how creatives collaborate when telling stories and the tools they need to simplify this process, and Arc Studio was born. With Arc Studio, writers can have fewer technical frustrations and more creative collaboration. Arc Studio takes screenwriting beyond just text formatting and combines industry-standard formatting, advanced story-building tools, and real-time collaboration tools, all within a distraction-free design.”
Also using tier-based pricing, this app is available for Windows, Mac and iOS. Of course, formatting is simple by automatically adding script elements with a click. You can also outline your script with color-coded beats and storylines and easily rearrange plot points by dragging and dropping. They also say that Arc Studio is committed to improving its software, and you can expect frequent updates every few weeks.
Price: Offers a basic free subscription
There are many choices to help you get your story on the page. There are apps that have stood the test of time and innovative programs. Just about every one of these apps has a demo version, so you can try them out. With formatting challenges out of your way, you can focus on telling your story.
Contributing editors to this article include Jeff Chaves.