A Review of Final Draft 7 - A Screenwriter's Friend?
written by: Scott•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/6/2011
Final Draft 7 could be the version of this well-known screenwriting program that you've always been waiting for, or perhaps it's the version that will finally drive you crazy. Read on.
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Final Draft 7 is a multi-featured screenwriting program used for writing screenplays, TV episodes, and scripts for live theater. It’s available for both Windows and Mac operating systems and comes with templates for film and television script formats. It also streamlines writing for log lines, transitions, dialog, and action. Some of the more prominent features include cross-platform compatibility, the ability to import/export files, Format Assistant Checks, and a Tagger Export utility. Index Card/Outline/Navigator Panels, Avid XML export, CollaboWriter, and Voices are product features also. Final Draft’s file format has also been accepted by the Writers Guild of America West for use in their registry.
Final Draft has strong roots. Final Draft was founded in 1991 when the company began developing and offering its well-known screenwriting software. More recently, it has acquired Script magazine and has begun holding screenwriting conferences called the Scriptwriters Showcase. Final Draft also began offering specialized meetings with industry professionals called Take A Meeting and began a script coverage and notes service called ScriptXpert. Final Draft also sponsors an annual screenwriting competition called Big Break, which is designed to give emerging talent industry exposure as well as a chance to win prizes.
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Installation & Setup
The installation and setup for Final Draft 7 could not have been easier (the exact version installed was 7.1.3). Standard no-frills dialog boxes were used, the process was straightforward, and everything seemed to function smoothly. The installation procedure in the User's Guide is extremely well-documented as well. The fonts are large and easy to look at and the instructions are intuitive, concise, and clear enough for a novice to navigate with ease. There’s also a very straightforward block diagram to aid the process. Overall, the installation was super easy and there were no surprises.
A look at the readme.txt file that comes with Final Draft 7 prior to installation does not inspire confidence. For example: “Clicking on the ruler no longer crashes the program," or “The program no longer crashes when dragging and dropping a Script." There are a lot more where that came from. It makes one wonder why so many earlier versions were not tested adequately but then sold anyway. Not only that, but other questions can be raised. For example, were these longstanding problems that took too long to fix or were these new problems caused during the development of a more recent version? Moreover, what kind of unhappy surprises are in store for the user installing this program for the first time?
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The UI for Final Draft 7 is virtually the same as it is for Word. The toolbar at the top is actually even easier than Word's and highly readable. Anyone with experience doing normal word processing should be very comfortable.
There’s no selection for different font colors in Final Draft 7. This could be useful during development if someone wanted to highlight the specific sections of a project. The “Ask the Expert" window has a color scheme that I found difficult to look at. There is no icon in the upper-right corner to close the window, as one would expect. It’s actually hard to see, but for some reason they put Exit in a small font down in the bottom right-hand corner.
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Final Draft 7 utilizes a basic set of features as well as another set of what might be deemed "special features." The basic and special features available in Final Draft 7 are those that are expected in any high-end scriptwriting software which include the following items:
· To begin a new project, one can choose from 15 Script Templates, which includes everything from “BBC Screenplay for TV" to "US Screenplay (Spanish)." Six Text Documents, which includes everything from "Manuscript" to "Treatment," and 80 TV Templates, which includes everything from 24 to Without a Trace. While not exhaustive, this provides ample coverage.
·The ability to import files from any word processor and then export to a variety of formats including PDF. This is important because of document protection issues.
·AFormat Assistant. This is an option that checks a script for common formatting errors, such as missing dialog, extra spaces, carriage returns, and blank elements. Once it's run, a window opens showing a list of errors that can be easily fixed by simply selecting Fix. This is a nice feature.
·Index Card/Outline/Navigator Panels are available so that instead of editing a script on a standard page, the user can display a script in Index Card format or in an outline. This makes navigation easier and aids in script development.
·A Creative Handbook is included which contains a number of sample contracts from the Writers Guild of America, West. This would fall more in the category of special features, but could nevertheless be quite useful.
·Another special feature would include the “Ask the Expert" option. This allows the user to obtain useful hints about their project.
· Avid XML Export Script. Files can be exported to Avid editing tools for use with Script-based editing and subtitling.
·The CollaboWriter feature allows users to write, edit, and discuss a script with other Final Draft users in real time over the Internet.
· Final Draft has a feature called Voices that can read back a script using a variety of electronic voices that can be modified by the user.
·The Production feature uses pop-up menus to allow an in-production script to be locked and will create pages to help keep the script intact when content is added or removed.
This is a strong set of features and, given a suface look, the program is not missing any make-it-or-break-it features.
Having the features available is one thing; however, using these features is probably not going to be intuitive for the novice. Additionally, while Final Draft 7.1.3 provides a feature-rich environment, there are still at least a couple of things missing. For example:
·There’s no template for a comic-book script.
·The program exports to Avid editing tools but not to Final Cut Pro.
·There’s no introductory demo. The unfamiliar/novice user has to go to the User’s Guide and flip pages while simultaneously trying to construct a script. Thus, it would be better if some kind of demo came with the program.
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Once everything is set up it works smoothly.
Files cannot be imported directly from Word. Final Draft will only open other documents if they are in either Notepad (.txt) or WordPad (.rtf) format. This forces the Word user to copy and paste into either Notepad or WordPad, save the file, and then in Final Draft, follow the File > Open > select procedure so that a new document (.txt or .rtf) can be converted to either Script or Text format. This is simple enough and works well in the .txt case, but in the .rtf case, the Script conversion merges one of the templates from the File > New procedure into the imported/converted document. As a result, Final Draft will only import/convert Notepad documents and will, let’s just say unhappily, alter WordPad converted documents.
The title page is separate from the rest of the script, rather than the first page of a script. This represents an unnecessary level of complication for those who want the title page in the same file as the main document.
For some of the TV show templates, Final Draft calls the show title an Action instead of a show title and it calls an episode name, you guessed it, an Action.
The program has an unusual way of locking two lines together and not responding to carriage returns.
If the user selects a template during a previous session, then from that time on, the program opens with that template instead of, for example, a blank project or nothing.
While the spell checker correctly flags suspected words, the user has to struggle through several right and left clicks in order to open up the usual window needed to select the Ignore command. But even if one is successful with the Ignore command, the red squiggly underline either doesn’t disappear at all or disappears only after a mysterious and uncorrelated delay. Once sufficiently annoyed by this, the only recourse is to use the Tools > Spelling option. This feature, however, doesn’t update even after Skip is selected, which forces the user to go through the process twice in order to get the program to perform the skip function.
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Help & Support
Final Draft has automated their support as much as possible. Overall it seems to work well.
Tech support over the phone is a negative. The first twenty minutes are free, but after that it cost $2.50 per minute. This is unwelcome, especially if someone finds one of the many bugs that Final Draft should have found and fixed in the first place. In this regard, Final Draft would be well advised to not charge for their errors.
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Price to Value
If there is fair competition the market works, and this is no exception. The fact that Final Draft has a direct competitor proves this point and puts the price to value roughly where it should be. It’s also true that from time to time the Final Draft 7.1.3 is either on sale or offered at a discount (for special events), which probably makes the pricing more attractive and much closer to where it should be.
It’s difficult to find Final Draft 7.1.3 on sale.
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Overall, Final Draft 7.1.3 provides a feature-rich and user-friendly environment. Bug fixes are needed that would improve performance, but this shouldn’t be a deal breaker because what the product does right it does well. It would, however, be helpful to see Final Draft 7.1.3 in a side-by-side comparison against its nearest competitor to see which is better. For further reading on this, Google "Final Draft versus Movie Magic.", or read another review of Final Draft 7 from another reviewer.