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FINAL DRAFT 9 REVIEW

Final Draft 9 was released earlier this year. I have now used it for the past 5 months and gotten pretty familiar with some of the new features. So I figured it’s time I gave it a review.

 

I was given my first copy of Final Draft many years ago by a studio that was using it. Previous to that I had written hundreds of TV and film scripts with Microsoft Word which I’d modified via Styles to easily format standard screenplay margins and indents for slugs, description, characters, parentheticals, dialog, and transitions, plus shortcut keys for all of these. (See my earlier post How to Turn Microsoft Word into a Terrific Screenwriting Program to learn how to do this yourself.) After I finished the studio job that required Final Draft I went back to using Word. But now that Final Draft is the industry standard I write virtually all of my scripts with it.

Final Draft 9 was released earlier this year. I have now used it for the past 5 months and gotten pretty familiar with some of the new features. So I figured it’s time I gave it a review.

Everyone has different work patterns and therefore different ways they use software. Mine are pretty simple because I'm a simple guy. Your needs may be very different. So this review should be read from that perspective.

I’m going to list the features that Final Draft says are New & Improved and give you my take on them. 

Scene Navigator

IMPROVED: SCENE NAVIGATOR - Filter any information by keyword in all views of the Navigator.

If you are familiar with Scene Navigator you know it’s a separate window that shows you the order of scenes, the page number they appear on, the title you give them, the location (based on what you've written in the slug line), the time (DAY, NIGHT) and a few other items of your choosing. You can also add whatever text you want in the summary box and color code the scene if you like. The new search feature allows you to search the custom titles and summaries you have given to each scene and get a list of those scenes that contain the search word . In order to make this feature useful you would have to consistently include names or other search words in the titles and summaries. I imagine it could be useful, but after writing several scripts with FD9 I never used it. If I wanted to find a scene containing a certain word I simply searched the script for that word. 

With respect to search, I do feel they missed one valuable feature that would make the Scene Navigator much more user friendly. I quite often, while writing a screenplay, change character names, locations, etc. However, if I have already written the names and locations in the Navigator titles or summaries there is no way for me to update them other than going scene by scene and revising the entire Navigator contents. This can be time consuming if you have over a hundred scenes in your script. It’s so time consuming that I just don’t do it. But if Final Draft had a separate file that could be opened which contained the Navigator text it would be very easy to do a quick search and replace.

Character Navigator

NEW: CHARACTER NAVIGATOR - Add a character’s story arc via individual Character Beats in each scene.

The Character Navigator lists all the speaking characters in a scene and gives you a window in which to write character arc material. I imagine this could be useful if a writer was writing his entire screenplay in Final Draft, starting from the outline stage and blocking in scenes, working out character arcs, etc. But I don’t write this way. I have already worked out my outline in Microsoft Word before I even fire up Final Draft. In fact, as you’ll see in my earlier post, You May Have Written More Than You Know!, I copy and paste my outline into Final Draft and quickly reformat it into script form so that half of my script is already blocked in when I begin to write my screenplay.

ScriptNotes Navigator

NEW: SCRIPTNOTES NAVIGATOR - Easy-to-see color-coded ScriptNotes stand out against your script in the margin.

This feature gives enhanced notation ability over FD8. Again, this would be very handy if you’re doing more than just drafting your screenplay in Final Draft. But I don’t. So I find is easier and cleaner to add a note by typing a note directly into the script and highlighting it. For example:

                                JOE
                  Suck eggs! <--make this funnier!

Watermarking

NEW: WATERMARKING - Protect your scripts by watermarking in printing and in PDFs.

I’m not big on trying to protect my scripts. That’s because I know the simple truth that if someone wants to steal my script they’ve going to steal it no matter what I do. Even copyrighting and WGA registration are only helpful if you have the time and money to sue. But don’t worry, most people are honest. And most people in the industry have more ideas than they know what to do with so they're not interested in stealing yours. So with respect to watermarking you have to ask yourself—do you really want a big watermark behind every page of your screenplay text to remind readers that you aren't a professional screenwriter and don’t trust them to read your script without stealing it? I didn't think so.

Revision Page Colors

NEW: REVISION PAGE COLORS - Colored border allows for writing ease, with solid color production pages in PDF for distribution.

In our age of environmentalism this is a pretty cool feature. I stopped printing my scripts decades ago and started distributing them as PDFs. Now Final Draft lets you change the background color of PDF pages to blue, pink, yellow or whatever your draft is. A nice touch for pros. But not necessary if you’re not writing TV or features for studios who care about the color of drafts. I like this feature but I’ve had no opportunity to use it yet. 

Character Highlighting

NEW: CHARACTER HIGHLIGHTING - Highlight specific characters’ dialogue for tracking or table reads.

This feature allows you to highlight your characters in specific colors throughout the script. You can then see how characters are distributed. Again, I’ve never used this feature as I don’t need a highlight to tell me how I’ve distributed my characters. This could be a useful feature for producers, however. For example, pages can be printed with characters in highlight for casting or budgeting purposes, or for table reads. 

This brings up an interesting observation. Most of the enhancements in FD9 are far more valuable to the professional studio writer than they are for freelancers or those writing specs.

NEW: MAC ENHANCEMENTS - Enjoy distraction-free writing in full screen mode, as well as retina display compatibility.

I’m a Windows guy so I can’t tell you anything about these features. 

NEW: WINDOWS ENHANCEMENTS - New Windows ribbon look, with the option to switch to Classic mode.

The primary Windows enhancement is the upgrading of Final Draft from what looked like a Windows 95 GUI (graphical user interface) to something more like Windows 98. Okay, maybe a little better than W98, but not much. Surely not enough to make any real difference. At least to me. You would think with a release date of January 2014 they would have made it look like Windows 8. 

Okay, that's it on the new and improved stuff. If you want to read more about what Final Draft says about these upgrades click here.

Now for my personal experiences and a few things that "bug" me:

I was hoping that FD9 wouldn’t be such a buggy program, at least for me. But it still is. But let me put a disclaimer here: I don’t want to give the impression that FD9 is buggy. I don't know that. I only know it's been buggy for me. This could be a video issue. I use FD9 on my second monitor and it doesn’t do that well. It crashes about once a day. Fortunately, my work is autosaved every 3 minutes so I can’t lose much.

I also have found that full-script search and replaces with a word that appears many times in the script will crash the program. And if the program happens to autosave while you're doing a search and replace it will make garabge of one of the replacements.

I also find that FD9 will occasionally change a character name to some other character all on its own. This is annoying when you send out a script and read it again later only to discover these hidden gems. Again, this could all be a video issue, but it's an issue. Most well debugged programs don't have many issues. So it kind of "bugs" me that it's got these bugs. The nice folks at Final Draft customer service (and they have great customer service!) tell me that others aren’t experiencing what I experience. And I believe them. If you’ve had similar issues let me know.

Okay, so you're probably getting the feeling I don’t care much for FD9’s improvements nor its bugs. That’s true. But I still like Final Draft better than other screenwriting programs. And despite all the drawbacks I use Final Draft 9 every day of my life. And overall I'm pretty satisfied with it.

If Final Draft was my dream program it would have all of the formatting and editing capabilities, pretty GUI and no bugs of Microsoft Word with the script formatting elements and pagination of Final Draft. Wow! Would that be a hot program. (Mr. Gates, are you listening?)

Here’s my simple summation: If you have FD8 you really don’t need to upgrade unless you have a professional need for one of the new and improved features. If you are looking to buy your first screenwriting software I would definitely buy Final Draft. Click here to get a copy from Amazon. 

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved

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