Review: Final Draft 7 and Final Draft AV

Indispensible screenwriting program (July 18th, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Final Draft, Inc.

Price: $229.00 US on site

The Good

  • Easy install. Fine automation reflects standard screenplay formatting, auto-insert of names and locations. Support for story organization, and good script reporting tools.

The Bad

  • Works best with lots of RAM (over 1GB). Sluggish on slower machines with less memory.

There are several Macintosh scriptwriting solutions and Final Draft is probably the best known. For Example, Movie Magic Screenwriter began life in 1982 and links to a good production scheduler. There are also a number of less expensive script formatting add-ons to Microsoft Word, such as Dr. Format, Sophocles, and even the web browser-based ScriptBuddy. An impressive free open source JavaScript-based product, Celtx, works only in the Firefox web browser.

I like to stick to commercial products with history and responsive tech support. I find some of the lesser known and supported products generate PDFs that go haywire. Often you cannot see invisible line breaks and other problems. In my opinion, Final Draft 7 rises to the top, and is one of the best tools available.

If you used any of these products in the last century, you remember intrusive, almost paranoid licensing schemes, such as a floppy disk "key" with limited installs. Protective schemes like these are gone with the wind. Today's Final Draft installs on two machines at a time, and you activate each during the install, unobtrusively over the Internet. De-activate and re-activate any number of times, with your magic customer number. It's a win-win for both vendor and user because it reduces piracy and helps keeps the program's affordable price.

Smart scripting

The automation of script indent formatting and capitalization, which makes the program so valuable, remains the core of Final Draft. It has embellished automation with quick-insert character lists, scene lists, annotation, a decent thesaurus, and a teachable spellchecker. It also offers a classic index card scene-making tool, a complete smart screenwriting system. It is fun to use. Formatting stays out of your creative flow, and revision is even a joy.

For instance, the Tab key is a power-user's dream. It takes you from Scene slug line, to Action, to Character name, to Parenthetical, or to Dialog block, just by tapping Tab. If you reach the bottom of a page and insert a scene slug, Final Draft moves the slug to the top of the next page to prevent orphans and scene miscounts. SmartType allows you to begin typing an established scene setting or character name, and Final Draft knows it and lays it in ahead of your cursor. If more than one choice begins with "And..," like Andrew, Andrea, or Andolini, you can choose the correct word from the pop-up smart list. If you use "CONTINUED" or (MORE) at page breaks, it's all done for you, in your desired format. You have the ability to customize your indents but that is not recommended, because master screenplay format is traditionally rigid. Properly formatted, a script allows producers to time each page to about a minute.

Fabulous features

The Internet is a good place for Final Draft, because it supports Internet collaboration, with a feature called CollaboWriter. Use a broadband connection, like DSL or cable, for best results. You can chat with collaborators in real-time to work out scene ideas. It's a nice feature for very tight writing teams, in which each partner takes on the dialog and behavior of certain characters.

The Index Card view summarizes on one side and views the scene on the other, a valuable feature. Rearrange virtual cards by drag and drop-insert where you like. A Script Navigator allows split screen instant double-click access to scenes from a master list auto-assembled from the document, and your Index Card summaries are disclosed here.

Scintillating story support

Final Draft reports like a powerhouse database program. You can generate Scene, Location, and Character reports. The Character reports include the frequency with which your characters interact with others. Lois and Clark not in enough scenes together? You'll know it from the Character report. Do you have too many sets? You see it instantly from the Locations report. The reports are an eye-opener, and it's better to open your eyes to potential problems before The Studio's Reader opens his or hers for script coverage! You have total control over fine-tuning in Final Draft, but you only get one shot before The Studio's Reader. If your line breaks are correct, Final Draft generates a nice clean PDF, which is the preferred manner of transmitting screenplays.

Reviving old work saved in different formats is surprisingly easy. I imported a script written in a defunct screenplay program two decades ago. I had to boot up my old classic Mac SE/30 to access the script file, open it in Word, save it in text format. Importing that file into Final Draft 7 in Mac OSX was truly a breeze, and it retained all the indents, requiring only mild cleanup.

I put Final Draft through its paces on a 2001 Quicksilver G4 Dual 800 Power Mac with 1GB RAM, and it's great. Others report sluggish performance with 512MB RAM, under Mac or Windows. All screenwriting systems benefit from a lot of RAM, so don't skimp.

Corporate clarity

Final Draft AV ($149.00 US) is a specialized product built for producers and writers of two-column scripts that are popular in TV documentary and corporate video genres. I had Producer David Sternburg, who has never used automated software, boot up Final Draft AV for Windows, and take it through its paces. He is impressed with its timesavers, and ability to shift or offset scene and narration text columns against each other to accurately reflect how he wants the story to flow. He's encountered no serious glitches on an older laptop and reports saving time doing "stupid picky formatting" he always felt anchored to before. If you need both products, you can purchase the Final Draft Scriptwriters Suite and save.

Good screenwriting can be a tough process that requires endless revision. Champion programs, like Final Draft and Final Draft AV, facilitate the craft without getting in your way.

Stay tuned for the September announcement of the finalists in the Final Draft's Big Break! Contest. The 7th Annual International Screenwriting Contest Winners are announced in October.

Loren S. Miller is a professional film editor, filmmaker and developer of KeyGuides for Macintosh pro applications. Reach him at lormiller@mindspring.com..

by Loren S. Miller


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