Although just about any word processing tool can be used to create a screenplay, screenwriting software can help organize ideas, map out scenes, and automatically format screenplays so a writer can pretty much type without thinking.
Screenwriting software lets aspiring screenwriters translate their ideas into complete scripts ready for agent review or production. The best platforms use templates, automatic text tools, and easy exporting to quickly create formatted screenplays without a lot of tinkering. Some also offer real-time collaboration, making it easier for multiple writers to work on the same project at once.
We reviewed over a dozen software options and chose the best based on price, ease-of-use, organization and formatting tools, easy importing and exporting, and more. Here are our top seven picks.
The 7 Best Screenwriting Software Programs of 2020
Best Overall: Final Draft
Developed in 1990 by screenwriter Marc Madnick and software engineer Ben Cahan, Final Draft was the first screenwriting software on the market. In 2016, it was purchased by production company Cast & Crew and has become the entertainment industry standard for screenwriting. We chose Final Draft as the best overall because it’s simple to use and includes tons of templates, auto-formatting, and powerful organizational tools to help screenwriters create well-crafted screenplays.
Final Draft is built around efficiency and employs a SmartType feature that adds the names of characters and locations to a drop-down menu for easy access. It also offers over 300 templates for screenplays, teleplays, stage plays, and more; text-to-speech; alternate dialogue to create different versions of character lines; and a beat board and story map to help outline and organize ideas for film projects. Finally, Final Draft features real-time collaboration, time-saving keyboard shortcuts, and automatic file backups.
Final Draft is available for Windows and Mac systems for a one-time fee of $249.99 and comes with a 30-day free trial. Mobile versions for iPad and iPhone are also available for $9.95.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Movie Magic Screenwriter
Movie Magic Screenwriter was created in 1983 by USC film school friends Stephen Greenfield and Chris Huntley. Alongside Final Draft, Movie Magic is widely used by professional screenwriters and officially endorsed by the Writers Guild of America, East. We chose it as our runner-up because it offers almost identical features to Final Draft, but is a little less pervasive across the industry and has a somewhat less-intuitive interface.
All the features of Final Draft can also be found in Movie Magic Screenwriter, with the exception of a beat board and story map. The software replaces these with a NaviDoc interface that can display an outline, scenes, notes, and bookmarks alongside the script as it’s being written.
While Movie Magic Screenwriter offers only 100 templates versus Final Draft’s 300, it can import and reformat Microsoft Word, PDF, or Rich Text files. Some users also consider the software’s interface a bit outdated compared to Final Draft and are disappointed at the lack of an iPad and iPhone app.
Movie Magic Screenwriter is available for both Windows and Mac systems for a one-time fee of $249.95 and comes with a 14-day free trial.
Best for Beginners (Mac): Highland
Highland was developed as an app for Macs in 2012 by John August (director of Big Fish and Go) to help screenwriters focus on the actual process of writing. We chose it as the best for beginners for Mac users because it offers the basic features a screenwriter needs in a user-friendly interface.
At its heart, Highland is an intuitive screenplay writing tool that lets users simply open up the software and start writing. When users type a character’s name in all caps, the next line is automatically entered as dialogue. Highland also recognizes scene headers like INT and EXT and transitions like CUT TO and automatically suggests character and location names.
Highland also keeps the user experience simple by using plain text formatting. It can read .markdown, .txt, and .fountain files, a text-based file compatible with most screenwriting software, and Highland files can also be opened and edited in any plain text editor like Google Docs and Notepad.
While it’s relatively simple, Highland does offer a few fun and helpful extra features. These include reordering scenes and notes by dragging and dropping them, alternate scene and section notes, tracking the gender breakdown of speaking parts in a script, and customizable automatic backups.
Highland is available as a free Mac desktop download. Any PDFs created in the free version are watermarked. A “pro” version is also available as a $49.99 upgrade and includes 14 templates, 10 built-in editor themes, priority email support, a revision mode, and access to the Highland Slack channel.
Best for Beginners (Windows): Trelby
Originally developed and sold as Blyte in 2003 by software engineer Osku Salerma, Trelby was renamed and released as an open-source screenplay writing software in 2011. We chose it as the best for beginners for Windows users because of its simplicity, user-friendly and customizable interface, automatic formatting, and free pricing.
At first glance, Trelby looks like a bare-bones screenplay writer. Users get a simple ready-to-type interface with a line of buttons along the left side of the screen that can be customized to any writer’s preference. Once a user starts typing, however, Trelby’s beauty and simplicity are revealed. A screenplay editor automatically formats all typed text into the correct script format and offers auto-complete and spell-check functions. Users can also choose from multiple views, including draft and fullscreen.
While Trelby offers little in the way of bells and whistles, there are some extra features writers will like. These include an international character name generator, reports (scene, location, character, dialogue, etc.), versions tracking, and screenplay importing options from Final Draft, Celtx, Fountain, Adobe Story, and Fade In. Finally, Trelby files can be exported in PDF, HTML, RTF, Final Draft, and Fountain formats.
Trelby is completely free and offers downloads for both Windows and Linux systems.
Best Price: Fade In
Fade In is a screenwriting software developed by film director and screenwriter Kent Tessman in 2011 as a more affordable alternative to the “big two” on the market. We chose it as the best price since it is a powerful platform used by professional screenwriters and costs one-third less than Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter.
Fade In is a rising star in screenwriting software boasting some big users like Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi) and Gary Whitta (Rogue One). It offers many of the same features as Final Draft and Movie Magic, including automatic script formatting, auto-complete typing, real-time collaboration, and cloud storage, all in an easy-to-use interface.
Fade In offers a few other essentials like a script breakdown tool, index cards, templates, revision tracking, and reports. Users get a few extra bonuses, including a Dialogue Tuner that helps keep a consistent character voice, an overused word checker, and an action-to-dialogue calculator to help writers show rather than tell their stories.
Fade In can also import a variety of popular screenwriting software formats, including Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Scrivener, Adobe Story, and Celtx documents, as well as Rich Text Format and Open Screenplay Format XML. It can export directly to PDF and Open Screenplay Format XML for maximum compatibility.
Fade In is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems for a one-time price of $79.95 which includes version upgrades. A free version is also available with watermarked PDFs and all the features of the paid software. iPhone/iPad and Android apps are available for $4.99.
Best for Collaboration: WriterDuet
WriterDuet was developed in 2013 by screenwriter Guy Goldstein as screenwriting software that offers seamless real-time collaboration. Since then, it has grown into a full-featured writing platform with robust outlining and production features. We chose it as the best for collaboration since it allows multiple users to work on a script at the same time with no danger of overwrites.
WriterDuet is a cloud-based program that makes it easy to write from anywhere on any device with auto-sync, mobile apps, and an online-offline desktop app. The software was built from the ground up to fully support real-time collaboration. Users can see each other’s changes immediately, even if they’re working on the same line at the same time. It also offers intuitive commenting features and in-app text and video chat to streamline feedback and co-writing.
WriterDuet includes many standard screenwriting software features, including templates, outlining tools, reporting alternate dialogue storage, cloud backup (Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud), and revision tracking. Finally, WriterDuet can import and export to most common formats, including Final Draft, Fountain, and PDF.
WriterDuet offers a free version as well as three paid subscription plans:
- Write online from any web browser
- Three-project limit
- Industry-standard formatting
- Mobile app
- Revision tracking
- Outliner & Scratchpad
- $7.99 per month
- All Free Plan features
- Unlimited projects
- Real-time collaboration (Free or Paid users can join projects)
- $11.99 per month
- All Plus Plan features
- Desktop app with free updates
- Dropbox & Google backups
- Chat and notifications
- Auto-save to hard drive
- Script statistics & reports
- Gender analysis tools
- Production tools (locked pages, scene numbers, omit scene, etc.)
- Reports & analytics
- Script shortening and formatting checker tools
- More document templates and custom templates
- $15.99 per month
- All Pro Plan features
- 10GB storage
- Free MultiColumn, ReadThrough, and AutoTranslate plugins
Best for Production: Celtx
An abbreviation for Crew, Equipment, Location, Talent, and XML, Celtx is a cloud-based screenwriting platform focused on film pre-production and production. We chose it as the best for production because it organizes all of the project elements of a film in one centralized, collaborative tool.
At its heart, Celtx is screenwriting software with many industry-standard features, including importing from PDF, Final Draft, and Microsoft Word documents; templates; revision tracking; and multi-user collaboration. Celtx is best used, however, as a production tool that can take a film from script to shoot.
This all-in-one solution for writing, planning, and collaborating on film, TV, play, and even video game projects makes it easy to create story and script boards, budgets, schedules, call sheets, and more. Users can break down scripts to create lists of props, locations, and actors; block shots to mark camera, lighting and cast positions; and create reports to keep track of costs.
Celtx offers a scriptwriting subscription plan with both month-to-month and annual pricing as well as separate plans for video and game production:
- $20 per month
- Up to 10 projects
- Script editor
- Screenplay, Stageplay, and Multi-Column AV templates
- Index cards
- Offline mode
- Script insights
- Revision tracking
- Mobile apps
What Is Screenwriting Software?
Screenwriting software makes it easy for writers to put their ideas straight onto the page and create a complete, properly formatted script without tinkering with layouts so they can get to production faster.
The best platforms include pre-made templates, automatic formatting, auto text completion, revision histories, and importing and exporting to standard formats so writers can focus on their ideas instead of their software. Many also offer collaboration tools to let multiple writers share and work on the same script simultaneously.
How Does Screenwriting Software Work?
Screenwriting software helps writers create tight, industry-formatted scripts that can be easily read and used by directors and producers. Many also feature storyboards and notes to help writers organize their ideas, and some have additional tools to analyze character dialogue for a consistent tone or to determine the balance of action and dialogue.
Because screenplays are almost always submitted as PDFs, screenwriting software always offers the option to export to (and ideally from) a PDF. Others allow popular screenplay formats to be imported and exported across platforms for easy sharing and editing.
How Much Does Screenwriting Software Cost?
Screenwriting software can cost up to $250 (one-time) for the most widely used platforms in the industry. While most are available for a one-time purchase, some offer monthly subscription-based pricing between $12 and $20 per month.
While subscription-based plans may seem more expensive, most offer free software upgrades, which can be expensive and would need to be purchased separately if the user chooses one-time purchase software.
Is Screenwriting Software Worth the Cost?
Anyone serious about making a career of screenwriting or producing an indie or feature film should invest in screenwriting software. A good platform removes a lot of the legwork of formatting, analysis, and change-tracking to help writers get down to the business of writing.
More casual writers (like someone doing school productions, low-budget plays, or writing for a hobby) can get by with one of the free options we reviewed, which are good at handling basic formatting and offer some reporting tools to help keep scripts tight and balanced.
How We Chose the Best Screenwriting Software
Two screenwriting software options, Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, dominate the market by miles, so it was essential that we covered each thoroughly. Additionally, we looked at more than 10 others, focusing primarily on price, how easy they were to use, templates and automatic formatting options, collaboration tools, and import and export features.
Since the ultimate goal of any screenwriter is to produce a PDF for submission and sharing, we were careful to choose software that focused on slightly different organization and analysis to meet the diverse needs of different writers and deliver the same end result.
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Quote-Unquote Apps. "Highland 2." Accessed June 1, 2020.
IMDB. "Rian Johnson." Accessed June 2, 2020.
Austin Film Meet. "Interview with Guy Goldstein, Creator of WriterDuet." Accessed June 2, 2020.
Lifehacker. "Screenwriting Software Showdown: Final Draft vs. Celtx." Accessed June 1, 2020.