Writing Tools

Alternatives to Final Draft and Movie Magic

by Peter Basch

If you are a knowledgeable user of Microsoft Word you can make up a template (a *.DOT file) with appropriate styles, and produce a pretty nice looking script. If you don't know what "templates" and "styles" mean, do not try it. It will just anger you.

Some people have already designed Microsoft Word templates for you, and you can download some add-ins for Word at www.dependentfilms.net/files.html. I have not tried them, so I do not vouch for them. If you Google "screenplay formatting software", you will find other programs, add-ins for Word as well as stand-alone programs. Many of them are cheap or free, and they may offer you a perfectly good solution. Maybe not studio-ready, but good enough to get a reading together, or present to your writing group.

There are certain tasks that really do require a special program, such as the dread and confusing MOREs and CONTINUEDs. When a character's speech goes onto a new page, your script must indicate this with a MORE on the bottom of the page, and a CONTINUED at the top of the next page. When you are writing the speech, you generally will not be thinking about whether you are at the end of a page or not, you will be in a frenzy of typing. And page breaks move around every time you edit. So inserting the MOREs and CONTINUEDs manually is a hideous chore. You can leave it until you are completely done, if you like, but I don't know many writers who know when a script is "completely done". Generally writers work until a certain amount of time past their deadline and finish in a screaming hurry with their family yelling at them that they are hungry and lonesome. Not a good time to be tediously fussing with page breaks.

You also have to be vigilant about character names at the bottom of the page with the dialogue following at the top of the next page. Actors hate that, because it makes the script hard to handle. Watch for lone slug lines at the bottom of the page too. That makes for a very sloppy script. If you're in Word, these should be formatted as "Keep with Next;" that setting is on the Line and Page Breaks tab of the Format Paragraph dialog box.

Warning: If you are a geek and a procrastinator, this stuff can be a black hole. Beware of saving some money in exchange for hours of tweaking. You may run into Tolstoy's problem with technology, to wit:

It is said that when Thomas Edison invented the dictating machine, or Ediphone, he came up with a brilliant idea for publicizing it: send one as a gift to the most famous author of the day, Leo Tolstoy. Sort of like an Oscar gift basket, giving high end toys for free to people who can afford to buy their own.

Apparently, Tolstoy did use it for a while, then discarded it. He sent a note: "Dear Mr. Edison, Thank you, but it is too dreadfully exciting - I would never get any work done."

(See http://www.neuhaus.it/english/tolstoy.html for actual recordings of Tolstoy's voice!)