Final Draft is to writing screenplays what Microsoft Office is to business communications. They have quite a bit in common, those two programs; not in their features per se but that their features go far beyond just putting words to screen. In fact, Final Draft is really bad for putting words to screen.
In fairness, there are some features that really speed up the process of writing a screenplay. There are keyboard shortcuts to easily format things in the industry-standard way, and typeahead for names and previously-used scene names. Because it formats the document as you go, it knows when you are typing a character name or a scene intro, so it is able to help you along. Once you get used to that part, you can save a lot of keystrokes.
But holy crap what a dog of a text editor. To start with, it’s ugly. You have to go out of your way to make text that ugly on a Mac, and they have. The thing is fraught with display problems, and often a click on one line will yield a blinking cursor somewhere else. Then there are the times the screen is completely whacked out.
There are no excuses from the Final Draft boys on this; Jers Novel Writer also has discrete sections with predefined styling for each type of section, and it has none of those problems. It was written by a guy in a bathrobe. Of course, much of the problem with Final Draft is likely because they want to use as much of the same code as possible in the Windows and Mac versions, meaning they can’t really leverage the almost-magical text-rendering features on the Mac, and I suspect they also can’t use the best of Windows either.
[NOTE TO STEVE JOBS: Cocoa for Windows! Come on! You don’t think the Final Draft people wouldn’t be all over that in a heartbeat? Hell, they’d probably license my code. Imagine this pitch. Geek: “We want to use Cocoa.” Suit: “Why?” Geek: “It’s an amazingly innovative framework that will reduce development time and run wicked fast both on Macs and Windows with no extra effort on our part.” Got that Steve? Cocoa for Windows. It’s your Next Step toward world domination. (Insider pun accidental but embraced.)]
Of course, Final Draft has no margin notes and no database. Jer’s Novel Writer doesn’t have a notecard view of all the scenes that you can flip through and rearrange (a feature I can appreciate though I have yet to use). The closest thing to that is the automatic outline in JersNW, which I really, really, miss when working in Final Draft. fuego has pointed out in the past that the notes features of JNW would be really useful during production as well.
Final Draft is, I think, a well-named product. It has all kinds of stuff to help during production (things like pink pages – insertions and removals don’t affect surrounding page numbering, so all the people who have information that refers to a script page don’t have to go back and update everything when a scene is deleted. You can print out the page changes (each time you do you use a new color, thus ‘pink pages’), and people can update. A meeting can start with, “OK, everyone have the ochre pages?” and you know that everyone’s up to date. There’s no way I’m putting that into Jer’s Novel Writer.) That’s all cool. Final Draft is a very useful program once you have the final draft.
Another thing that Final Draft is very good at, something that almost redeems it, is that when you paste in text that is formatted with some reasonable level of consistency, the program is quite remarkably good at interpreting the text and formatting it. Hopefully the guy who wrote that code has a BMW to go with his ulcer. Now I’m working on Dark War, using Jer’s Novel Writer, laboriously typing out people’s names every time and making sure the right parts are all caps. Still far better than writing a first draft in Final Draft. At some point, when I have to share the work, I’ll past the whole mo-fo into Final Draft.
Maybe the Final Draft guys will someday remember that they are selling software for writing a screenplay, not just managing one. Maybe it’s time for Jer’s Screenplay Writer.