Express Yourself: An Introduction to Scripting and Storyboarding Software

Let’s get real. We work and play in a visual medium where even scripts and storyboards strive for a certain look. Whether you’re a writer, director or producer, if it doesn’t look right, it lowers your chances of getting seen. But here’s some software to help with that next script or storyboard presentation.

For the Writer Inside

At their core, scripting programs are basically specialized word processors. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Word, you’re already primed. The programs automatically know how to format based upon what you type. For example, typing INT. (script-speak short for “interior”) signals the program to format for a scene heading.

Most film and TV scripting programs work alike but vary in cost. Stand-alone programs like Final Draft (Final Draft, Inc.), Movie Magic Screenwriter (Write Brothers, Inc.) and Scriptware (Cinovation, Inc.) run anywhere from $130 up to $299 depending on where you buy. Dr. Format, Script Wizard (Stefani Warren & Associates) and HollyWord (Simon Skill Systems, Inc.) cost under $100 but require MS Word. Paying more gets you more in the case of Final Draft and Movie Magic. Special functions include the ability to write and edit live online with a partner (Movie Magic even has a voice chat option) and my personal favorite: speech support that reads your script back to you. This can be an invaluable tool, as your ear catches mistakes your eye cannot.

Commercials, multimedia and industrial (classified as A/V) scripts typically use a two-columned format. Action and sound effect descriptions go in the left column, dialog in the right. For this format there’s Final Draft A/V (Final Draft, Inc., $179), Side by Side (Simon Skill Systems, Inc., $99) and Script Wizard (Stefani Warren & Associates, $69). The latter two require MS Word. One notable feature: Side by Side calculates reading time (minutes/seconds) of narration and dialog.

Picture This

Storyboarding is the practice of pre-visualizing a production through drawn, painted or rendered pictures called storyboards. In the past, storyboarding costs restricted the practice to productions with modest budgets. But recent software releases allow anyone to build storyboards using pre-created people, props and scenery. Most programs have multiple aspect ratios and import scripts, photos and scanned images for use as well.

In 2D programs like StoryBoard Quick (Power Production Software, $279), the user simply selects an object from the library, drags it into the panel, then scales it to the desired size. Some objects, such as people, have multiple poses and angles from which to choose. When complete, you can print or export the panel(s) for use in other programs, such as PowerPoint.

If you desire a little 3D, check out Storyboard Lite (Zebra Development, $499) or FrameForge 3D (Innovative Software, $349). What’s nice about these programs is that instead of creating a single panel, you create virtual 3D sets. Once built, you can choose your view from any angle on the “set”. Also, character positions and looks are customizable. Both 3D programs are surprisingly easy to use (especially FrameForge), and quite frankly, the results just look cool. However, 3D programs can bog down a computer. A lot of objects on screen can equal slower processing, especially if your computer doesn’t have a powerful 3D card installed. Also, object libraries are limited to manufacturer releases, although you can import 2D images.

What to Look For

Whether buying scripting or storyboarding software, consider costs versus your needs. Why pay $300 for a scripting program if all you need is a basic one you can get for free?

Consider compatibility with other software you use. Do you need your scripting software to work with production budgeting software? Does the storyboarding software export files accepted by your edit system? With so many programs offering demos, you should definitely try before you buy. If you can’t try it, then purchase from a place with a money-back satisfaction guarantee.

Bill Berg-Hillinger edits film previews and is a music video director and editor.

[Sidebar: Deal of the Day]

Mindstar Productions has available for download a full-functioning, no-strings-attached scripting program that costs nothing. That’s right. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. Free, baby! And the best part? It’s good, with many of the same basic features you’ll find in the “non-free” programs. Script Editor is also compatible with Mindstar’s Cinergy line of production planning software. Download Script Editor at

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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