You have in mind a cinematic project with multiple locations with explicit narrative descriptions, complex characters with unique dialogue, and a whole lot of film editing instructions. Is there a way to accurately portray all of that in one document? Yes, yes, there is! Is called a screenplay, which follows a unique “Hollywood standard” formatting. Is there a dedicated software to help you? Is there one for the low price of free? Of course, they are, and here we will give you five free screenwriting software options for you to try.
Why use screenwriting software?
The screenplay follows strict formatting rules. If you are brave, you can try recreating this format on a Word document or be smart about it and use screenwriting software that automatically formats your screenplay. Do note, however, that although the screenwriting software does a few nifty things, it does not create good scripts.
Check out “7 Script Editing Tips that Will Take Your Screenplay from Good to Great” for more information on how to improve your original script into something better.
This handy screenplay example created by Writers Store will give you a rough idea of how a screenplay looks. You can use this to get up to speed on screenwriting fundamentals.
Free screenwriting software options
Now that you have the fundamentals of making a screenplay, let’s see which free software you can use to write it in the correct format.
Celtx is a cloud-based pre-production suite that has a free scriptwriting module. Celtx is an excellent choice to start learning how to format a script. Additionally, Celtx offers a variety of packages which includes different tools and features (for a monthly fee) that will allow you to handle most of the task involved in video production. Tools such as Breakdown, Scheduling, Budgeting, Cost Reports, Shot List, and among others. If you don’t need all those tools and only need screenwriting, make sure to use the “Basic Scriptwriting” package which is entirely free.
- Easy to use scriptwriting software with the right tools to get your screenplay done
- Cloud-based platform – access anywhere
- Available for free as long as you downgrade to a limited free plan.
- A maximum of 3 projects (including items in the Trash)
- Discontinued desktop software.
- “Created using Celtx” footer watermark.
YouMeScript is a free collaborative screenplay, script, and screenwriting extension for Google Drive. YouMeScript correctly formats the screenplay including auto-formatting pasted text (e.g., paste a PDF screenplay to YouMeScript by only copy-paste). It also has shortcuts for full speed screenwriting (tab key) and auto-completes elements in your script such as character names, scene heading, and much more.
- Google Drive integrations allow you to use all Google Drive tools such as calendar, tasks, notes, etc.
- Full real-time collaboration with comments in the script
- Fast, easy to use, and straightforward.
- Unlimited scripts
- Import FDX, FOUNTAIN, and plain text.
- Upgrading to Pro version is affordable and includes useful features such as offline writing.
- Only for writing screenplay. No options for breakdown, scheduling, budgeting, cost reports, etc.
- It is designed and coded by one person (Jake Lyall). Still, the developer keeps it afloat (see YouMeScript Forum) and offers email support to answer any questions.
- You may encounter some bugs using the extension.
WriterDuet is professional screenwriting software that allows you to collaborate with a partner or multiple writers. You log in to the program on a browser and write together in real-time. It formats your script according to industry standards and includes windows for scene cards. Since Writer Duet focuses on collaboration, you can watch changes other writers made at another computer in real-time. Then you can use the comments functionality and the chat to clear up any concerns with your collaborator.
- Real-time collaborative work
- Analyzes a PDF and changes the text into an editable script.
- Export in a wide variety of formats (PDF, Final Draft, Celtx, others).
- Available in a web browser and mobile app
- Free version limited to three scripts
- Loading time might be a bit slow
Trelby is an open-source screenwriting software for Windows and Linux. It is free and is laid out to make screenwriting simple (enforces correct script format and pagination). Trelby has multiple views, including a draft view, WYSIWYG mode, fullscreen and a character name database containing over 200,000 names from various countries. Additionally, it allows you to create scene/location/character/dialogue reports and a “compare scripts” feature so you can know what changed between versions.
- Easy to learn and use
- Free with options to contribute to the development
- Import and export a wide variety of formats
- Only available on Windows and Linux. No Mac version as of the writing of this post.
Highland 2 is a Mac app designed to make navigating through a script a simple task. Highland handles formatting automatically allowing you to focus on words, not format. When you want to see the layout, toggle between your text and a preview of the finished document. Another cool feature is that you can move files between Fountain, Final Draft, and PDF formats.
- Distraction-free design
- PDF templates (screenplay, manuscript, stage play)
- Customizable layout with different colors
- Only available on Mac
- Doesn’t allow to import or copy-paste from a PDF
- Does not use “Tab” key to switch between script options (action, character, parenthesis, etc.) Can be confusing if you previously use the “Tab” key in other software.
Next steps with your screenplay
After you have a properly formatted script, the next step is to do a script breakdown to assist in your scheduling and budgeting. Note that some of the software mentioned above have tools for this. After knowing by heart the multiple ways you want a scene to play out, you’ll be able to handle any questions your actors may have during filming. Then you can produce it independently or see if you can sell it and make a movie.
RIP fallen heroes
Here I’m going to mention two discontinued scriptwriting software Adobe Story and Amazon Scripwritter. Both of them were excellent, but they lack some features in comparison to other screenwriting software. I especially loved Adobe Story integration with Premiere Pro that allowed to access scripts and see script updates in real-time with Adobe Story in Premiere Pro.