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Simple, elegant screenwriting.

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    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz
Friday
Aug312012

Final Draft Writer vs. the Innovation of Less

Final Draft, Inc. released their much-anticipated iPad screenwriting app this week. Called Final Draft Writer, it promises complete compatibility with the desktop app, and near-feature-parity as well.

We’ve known this was coming for a while. As Final Draft, Inc. was beginning work on this app, they solicited the opinions of screenwriters on what capabilities it must have. To no one’s surprise, we wanted it all—the full Final Draft experience. And faced with a pile of surveys with nearly every box checked, Final Draft, Inc. hunkered down and did exactly what we asked for.

First Impressions

The touch interface for drafting a Scene Heading is nice. And there’s a clever extra with the omnipresent scroll bar—as you drag it, a callout displays not just the page number, but Scene Headings as well. Although I don’t believe in Final Draft’s reliance on Scene Headings as the sole organizational tool for writers, this is still a welcome touch.

The app is full of details like that—details that show this to be a sincere and earnest effort to create a best-in-breed mobile screenwriting tool.

On the negative side, the app’s performance is not so great. Writer promises a perfect match to Final Draft’s industry-standard pagination, revisions management, and scene numbering, as well as some nifty bells and whistles, such as character highlighting and colored rendering of colored pages. All of this would seem to come at the cost of a noticeable lag as you type.

Final Draft Writer supports Dropbox, but in a manual push-and-pull kind of a way. If you are accustomed to apps that sync with Dropbox automatically as you work, Writer’s method will feel antiquated and un-iPad-like.

The Price

John August told Macworld:

“I’m rooting for Final Draft (and Scrivener, and Movie Magic Screenwriter),” August told us, “because I want to make sure there’s always a market for high-end professional screenwriting apps. The race to the bottom in software pricing is dangerous.”

I couldn’t agree more. There’s nothing wrong with Final Draft charging $50 for this app ($20 off until the end of September). Anyone who needs it can afford that. Conversely, if it seems expensive to you, then there are numerous other options.

Numerous Other Options

Of them, I would say that the recently-updated Scripts Pro and the feature-rich Storyist seem to have broken away from the pack as clean and reliable, FDX-compatible screenwriting tools for iOS.

It’s hard to imagine typing a screenplay without relying on buttons like these. Unless you’ve ever seen a typewriter.

But when I look at these apps’ pop-up menus or little rows of buttons for assigning element types, I no longer see the most minimal screenwriting UI I can imagine. With Fountain, the notion of choosing a “container,” and then filling it with text, is obsolete. Instead of constantly reaching for the mouse or touchscreen to declare what you’re about to write, you spend all your time with your hands on the keyboard, just writing it.

A Fountain-format screenplay in Byword for iPad

Screenwriting Without the Tab Key

The innovation of the iPad was that it was a computer that intentionally did less. Like a fixed-gear bicycle or an electric car, it allowed us to more easily do 90% of what we needed to, by saving us from wading through a phalanx of features designed for those occasional 10% requirements. For possibly the smallest imaginable example: the iPad’s touch keyboard lacks something most screenwriters use a thousand times per day: a Tab key.

There’s no “innovation of less” with Final Draft Writer. It ticks every one of the feature checkboxes those surveys reported. The result is impressive, but it feels like 10 pounds of app in a 1.5-pound bag. And like every other iPad screenwriting app I’ve seen, it grafts a Tab key onto the iPad keyboard layout.

On the other hand, if you want to write a screenplay on your iPad without all those annoying screenwriting features getting in your way, consider Fountain, along with a minimal text app such as Byword, Elements, or Writing Kit. Screenwriting without the need of a Tab key is a rather liberating experience.

The name of Final Draft’s iPad app is actually oddly apt—it invites the question: Are you a “Final Draft writer,” or a screenwriter?

Because the days of those notions being synonymous are rapidly fading to black.

Reader Comments (4)

Hey Stu,

Was wondering what you feeling on Celtx were, I noticed you failed to mention it in the other options. I remember at one point you seemed to be pretty keen in the app. What changed ?

September 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterJames Rhodes

Hi James, Celtx Script for iOS is still pretty good, but I didn't include it here because of one little qualifier buried in the post: "FDX-compatible screenwriting tools." I thought it made sense to compare FD Writer with apps that open and save FDX files. As good as it is, Celtx Script is still stuck on Celtx island.

September 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Hi Stu,
thank you for writing about this. I have a question: is the script automatically updated 'in the cloud' or do you end up with different versions when you write on your desktop at home and on your iPad on the road? This is the reason I started my latest project with Adobe Story since it does exactly that and it's very intuitive. I'm just waiting for their full working iPad version and hope for the best.
I have to say I miss the FD interface. It's like home.
And James, I have worked with Celtex because I wanted my client to have easy access to the project and it got VERY confusing after a while with all the different versions and several times I thought I had lost everything. I haven't touched it since then (but they still kept charging me $5 a month forever and it took me very long to find out whom to call to cancel)
Stu - I'm so glad that you said that the days that being a Final Draft Writer and being a screenwriter are synonymos are over. That's how they got us!

September 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterJan Becker

is the script automatically updated 'in the cloud'

No. You manually push it to and pull it from Dropbox. That's not terrible—it doesn't necessitate multiple versions—but it's not how folks expect iPad writing apps to behave.

September 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu
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