Writing Resource 2/100: Final Draft – from a beginner…

Now, I fully appreciate that recommending ‘Final Draft‘, which has been around since 1990, to anyone who is remotely interested in writing screenplays is a bit like standing up at Comic Con and announcing you’ve discovered this cool new book called ‘The Watchmen‘ (and yes, the ‘the’ is ironic…)

However, this series in resources is not intended to be all-new ground breaking finds (Hell, anyone who’s read some of the novel/ film reviews on this site will have figured out that this isn’t the most innovative of treasure hunts…), but merely things: be they books, sites, software or other resources, that I have found useful or interesting.

As they say on their own website Final Draft is the leading screenwriting software package, used by 95% of the industry.

So what is it? Well, it basically (and this is a VERY basic introduction to Final Draft) allows for pagination of scripts to formats that are standard to industry expectations. Even more basically, it allows for quick creation of script documents on your PC or Mac.

I tried the 30 day free trial of Final Draft earlier this year and when my free period was up, liked it enough to fork out the full price. It’s not cheap – I paid £180 for version 10: version 11 is now being offered for £129…(which isn’t f****g annoying at all…: as the upgrade from version 10 is an extra £60…) I think there are various different prices depending on your status – educational discounts etc, but anyhoo, regardless of ‘early adopter’ price hazards I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got.

While it is first and foremost intended for screen play production, Final Draft can, in theory, be used for pretty much any writing project – from plays to graphic novels. That’s what they say anyway- so far I’m still playing around with the more basic stuff.

So, as a pretty-much complete beginner, what am I using Final Draft for? At the moment, I have to admit I am very much finding my feet.

Is it the best software package out there? Frankly, I have no idea. There are certainly alternatives, and some of them are less expensive. I did minimal research before deciding on Final Draft, (as is my bad habit). There are of course, other alternatives available: moreofit.com provides a comprehensive comparison list which at time of writing is up-to-date.

For me, having thrown down by money I’m going to explore with Final Draft – my intention is to include a ‘six months on’ where I hope I can expand on some of the functionality and pros and cons of the package.

What I would highlight after a scant couple of months of use is:

  • The speed you can produce stuff on this. While getting orientated takes a little bit of experimentation (I found the auto save/ update a little strange to start with), the actual writing in the program is a dream compared to trying to format in Word. The auto fill and formatting based on what you’ve written so far is fast and works effectively in my experience so far.
  • Talking of Word, it could be asked if Final Draft isn’t just a fancier version- well, from my limited exposure so far, the ribbons suggest there’s a whole lot more that it will do for you – some of it I can already see I’ll never use (I don’t think I’m capable of producing a story line so complex I need to utilize the type of timeline and character sketch modules it offers and beat boards are a long way in my future if ever.) but a hell of a lot I think will be of use. So why is this talking of Word? Well,  one of the things I do like is that it’s close enough in look and feel for even a mediocre Word user like me to recognize enough of the styles and procedures to be able to start using it straight away…
  • The speed – take away the formatting and you find you can just get on and write. That sounds obvious, and I’m guessing any package could claim the same, but it was a nice experience for me.
  • Amending existing works- so far a bit hit and miss in terms of what it does and doesn’t like to import into its’ own propriety format. There have been some weird symbols and wing dings pop up, and one or two instances of error messages trying to import files it claims can be imported. If and when you do get it in there though, it’s easy to turn into a good looking format. I took a short I’d written entitled Earning Wings (a short that will be appear in the forthcoming collection ‘You Could Make A Killing‘…) that I thought could work as a screenplay. The conversion, tidying and adaptation took me about two and a half hours – not bad going.
  • Starting from scratch – I also took a story I’ve been thinking about for a while- one I thought could make a novel, and indeed I’m still working on (the first chapter will appear as a bonus in the aforementioned ‘You Could Make a Killing‘, and as little more than an experiment looked to see how easy it would be to write as a script. It took me about three hours to write a 40 minute tv episode – assuming the old maxim that a page equals a minute of screen time.
  • Support – what has struck me in the first month of two of using the product is the quality of the support- in program, on the comprehensive website, customer support and various other resources such as blog, competitions, email updates.
  • Format- what does piss me off so far, and I need to investigate more is that aforementioned proprietary format (.fdx) which, at the moment I’m finding means I can only write or review on the PC the program is downloaded to. I know there is a Final Draft mobile app ($9.99) which seems to give very basic read and edit functionality and, I believe, a thumb drive. But to work between laptop and PC? At the moment that’s proving a pain in the arse. But maybe that’s me.

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Well, that’s my beginner’s thoughts. I’m receiving no payment from Final Draft for this. (Although if they want to throw me that upgrade for free, I’m open to it…), and I’m sure you can find a thousand more informative pieces around the web if you’re thinking about buying.. but so far…it’s fun to play around with.

Watch out for a six month update in, erm six months or so…

 

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