There are two “industry standard” screenwriting softwares.
Final Draft (www.finaldraft.com) costs at least $169.00.
Movie Magic Screenwriter (www.screenplay.com) costs at least $100.00.
Both save by default to their own proprietary formats, .fdr/fdx and .scw respectively, but since they’re industry rivals, they do NOT save to each other’s format and you get to pick one or the other. We only have both because we already had MMS when we signed up for work on “The Nibelungs” miniseries, and the production company gave us a copy of FD since that’s what they were using…
Our XP versions of both these programs need upgrades before they’ll work on our current machines, and we’re not sure we’ll bother unless we absolutely must, since we’re currently happy with another program, using the Fountain (http://fountain.io/) plain text markup language. In fact the next four programs all use it, so the files, if exported (not saved!) as .fountain can be opened cross-platform. The one we’re using right now is…
FadeIn (www.fadeinpro.com), which costs a much more attractive $49.00. It has installations for PC, Mac and Linux and can be installed on more than one computer in the same household if they’re all the same OS. Obviously if you have a PC desktop and a Macbook Pro, you’ll need to pay for two separate FadeIns.
Slugline (www.slugline.co) is $39.99 at the Apple Store, and seems to be the Mac-dedicated version of this, though, not having any Macs in the house, we can’t say for certain. Stephen Fry likes it, which is a point in its favour, at least for us.
Wikipedia has a list of screenwriting software… (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screenwriting_software#List_of_software)
…but the word “free” appears very seldom. One of the few not defunct, discontinued, dead in the water or other uncomfortable D words is…
Trelby, www.Trelby.org. However it hasn’t been updated in a couple of years, which is never a good sign, and the promised Mac OS version has yet to appear (it’s still Linux & PC only). Fortunately it also uses Fountain, so if you decide to use it, EXPORT your work as .fountain files, as well as saving them as .trelby. That way if Trelby suddenly keels over, vanishes in a puff of smoke or does something equally vexatious, you won’t have lost any more than since your last save.
(And you’re making backups, aren’t you? No matter what you’re using, make back-ups…)
Scrivener, www.literatureandlatte.com, $40.00, has an option for screenwriting along with much else. It’s such a good writing app in so many ways that we have no hesitation in recommending it. There’s a downloadable free trial and they run an annual discount during NaNoWriMo, which is coming up in just two months.
The Screenwriter Initial Draft Pad from Amazon and www.Everybodyswrite.com, is a much more basic tool; you can’t get much more basic than pen/pencil and paper unless you’re into cuneiform or rock-carving. Draft Pad is a jotter with non-repro formatting lines for placing action, character names, dialogue, etc. and is a neat way of catching ideas when it’s inconvenient to power up a laptop or even pad. A bit of image study suggests that these lines could be easily added to a regular jotter, and anyway you’re going to be typing it up with one of the programs listed above. Handwritten screenplay is the roughest of rough drafts.
There are so many books on screenwriting to choose from that we won’t recommend any; in terms of giving advice, websites have become more immediate. Here are several: www.wordplayer.com, www.screenwriting.io, www.johnaugust.com, www.screenwriting.info and www.savethecat.com.
Google for the term “Screenwriting Glossary”; this will tell you what “establishing shot.”, “jump cut to”, “slug line” and “match cut” actually mean, and (for example) the difference between MOS, OS and VO.
MOS – movement-only shot – means action without dialogue or sound effects, like a space shuttle approaching its space station to the sound of a waltz or an aerial dogfight to classical music.
OS – offscreen – means sound or dialogue heard in the scene but not seen on the screen until the camera takes official notice of it or the speaker moves into shot.
VO – voice-over – means something said by a character not physically present, like a Film Noir narrator, an announcement in an airport or railway station, or even a message from a phone answering machine.
Bear in mind that older screenplays include a lot of extraneous material, including how lines should be said – instructions like (sarcastically) and so forth – which is no longer acceptable and considered amateurish. The setting and character interaction should indicate how an actor should speak their lines; anything further is the director’s job. The advantage of not including a lot of direction and character description is that it gives more room for actual story.
Some scripts and screenplays will be PDFs of classic films like “Casablanca”; others will be unofficial fan-written material not far removed from dialogue-only transcripts. Even genuine ones by famous screenwriters – Tarantino, Goldman, Cameron, Elliott & Rossio – may vary from what’s considered standard practice. They can get away with it, newbies can’t.
Once again, the internet will show what standard screenplay format looks like: size of margin, layout of indents, size of font – and while on that subject, the font is 12 point Courier. Nothing else. A basic breakdown is that one page of properly formatted screenplay equals a minute of screen time, or thirty seconds of animation, and while some producers are as unprofessional as anything you’ve seen in the movies, others are so good at their job that they can flick through that properly formatted screenplay and make an educated guess at initial costing.
Varying from the Boring Old Standard Format is the quickest possible way for them to not even get that far, because an unprofessional-looking screenplay will get dumped.
Whatever else you think of them, “Sharknado”, “Frankenfish”, “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda” and “Zombeavers” (with, apparently, an upcoming sequel called “Zombees”…) were all correctly formatted enough for a producer to look at, and entertaining enough for their writers to get paid…
So off you go, and best of luck!