First peek: Final Draft 10

A new version of the screenwriting software Final Draft for Mac and Windows has just been released. I was on the beta test program but still I’m going to call this a first peek: call it a full and frank review of the price rather than of the program itself.

The quick summary is that this is definitely the nicest version of Final Draft we’ve had and it does add new features but nothing that would make you pause with your mug of tea halfway to your open mouth. I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the new features but we’ll come to know whether they’re good or just gimmicks when we’ve been writing scripts in the app.

Script formatting hasn’t changed since time began and the ways in which Final Draft speeds up that part of the job can only go so far. They’ve gone so far. It’s unlikely that there will be some enormous new feature that you must have but there is something that I want. I want Final Draft to stop betraying the fact that it’s written for both Windows and Mac: it has always felt lowest-common denominator, it has always felt like an ancient PC app.

Of course it’s great that the app is on both platforms, the problem is that doesn’t feel as if it’s on either: it previously hasn’t kept up with Microsoft or Apple’s operating system.

Final Draft 10… still can’t quite shake that. Oddly, although the Mac version does still look like a Windows app, it’s still not as ugly as the actual Windows version.

It’s better. It’s getting there. And the reason for buying Final Draft at all remains how great it is at helping you zoom through a scene: forget writing out each character’s name in a fight, just write their line, trade their blow, hit return and give the other guy some words. This is the key part of the software, it is the key reason why it’s used: it means you can write down scenes just about as fast as you can hear them in your head.

If you don’t already have Final Draft, that would be the reason to get it. There are these new features, though. It is features, plural, as it really comes down to two. I’m being harsh: the makers would point to more but then they are obsessed with how Final Draft paginates and every time they boast about that, I think of how it is substantially less important than it was.

The two features that are worth examining begin with the story map. Sorry, Story Map(TM). They must be serious about it, they’ve trademarked it. Click on this and along the top of your screen where you might usually see a ruler, you get a timeline. Every scene has a mark on that time line and significant ones get bigger blobs. Click anywhere to go that screen. Or just look at the spacing between what you’ve said are the bigger blobby scenes.

Then there’s the Beat Board (also trademarked) which is to modern screenwriting what the cork board was to it before. If the cork board is for a single writer to plan out a single project, the beat board is more for a room of writers breaking a TV series.

That said, Final Draft still feels like an app for an individual, not a group. But there is now a collaborative feature: I’ve yet to test it out in anger or even really at all so I can’t tell yet whether it’s Google Docs-level collaboration. It’s certainly a way for many people to see the same script and exchange instant messages about it.

If you’re new to Final Draft then note that it retails for £188.40 ($249) but is temporarily on sale for £127.37 ($169. Education or military people can get some reduced price and upgrades can get version 10 for £75.36 ($99.99), temporarily reduced to £59.54 ($79.99). The reason for the odd Sterling price is Brexit. It will vary every time you look at it, but the trend ain’t going down.

You can buy the software from the official website where there is also a trial edition of both the Windows and Mac versions.

You can’t get a trial of the iPad and iPhone versions of either Final Draft Writer or Final Draft Reader. Never bother with Final Draft Reader. Just don’t. The Writer iOS app has been updated to work with Final Draft 10 features and if you already had it lurking away on your iPad or iPhone, you’ve just got the update for free. If you haven’t, then you need to buy and it costs approximately £23 ($29.99) temporarily discounted to £7.99 ($9.99). You can get this iPad and iPhone version here.

Final Draft on sale (pretty briefly)

You’ve got until 19 September to get Final Draft version 9 for $149.99 US, approximately 40% off, from the official site here.

The sale includes both the Mac and Windows editions: for Mac you need OS X version 10.7 or later – that’s better known as OS X Lion – and for Windows you need XP or later.

Final Draft doesn’t exactly stretch your computer: it’s funny how old-fashioned the software looks. I have version 8 and don’t really use it enough now to warrant going to 9 nor can I really see much of a difference in the upgrade: there isn’t a killer must-have feature.

But it’s a solid script-writing word processor and if it has more and better competitors today, it is still true that Final Draft is the nearest thing to an industry standard.

If you are an existing user, by the way, you can upgrade to version 9 for $99.99 on the same official site’s store.

Final Draft storm


Final Draft is the closest thing to an industry standard for film and television script writers: it’s a word processor that takes a lot of the repetitive formatting drudgery out of writing in this particular form. “Just add words” is the company’s strapline and most films you can think of the last very many years will have been written in Final Draft.


You should see this software. For all its power, it looks ancient and I do very much believe that you’re going to be face to nose with an application for twelve hours a day, it would be good if you liked looking at it. If it just looked like it could do all you need. Then the company irked me beyond all reason with its iPad version. From my own book, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition):

I like Final Draft but it lost a bucket of brownie points with me for Final Draft Reader: after years of everyone waiting for an iPad version of the app, they released that. More, they said it was because this was what we wanted. Sure, if you ask someone whether they’d like to be able to read their Final Draft scripts on their iPad, they’re going to say yes. Ask them if they’d prefer to be able to read and write them instead, you get exactly the same answer yet that yes is 100% different. That spin and some bugs in the first release put me off. But I do have it on my iPad and I do use it.

The Blank Screen: Word Processors – William Gallagher (UK edition, US edition) 

I don’t use it very much. But then I don’t use Final Draft on my Mac all that much:

I do like it on my Mac. I turn to it to write scripts far faster than I ever do Pages or Word because it does make the job easier. If you don’t yet write scripts, you won’t yet get why that’s even possible. But, for instance, when you’re writing a very strong exchange of dialogue between two characters, it is a boon to be able to hit Return after one speech and immediately start the rejoinder and know that Final Draft will pop the right character names in for you.

I first bought a version of Final Draft a good fifteen years ago and I’ve probably only written twenty scripts in it – my Doctor Who work has to be delivered in Word so I tend to write it there or in Pages – but I stick with it because I have it and what I like about it, I like a lot.

I have version 8.something.or.other and the reason I’m telling you about this today is partly because version 9 is out. It’s partly because version 9 doesn’t add anything that makes me want to upgrade. And it’s mostly because Final Draft is getting a lot of criticism for not adding much, for being such an old-fashioned application, and for costing £154.99 (Amazon UK) and $178.68 (Amazon US). I’ve put Amazon links there rather than directly to because the savings are substantial: the US one is officially $299.99.

It’s specifically got a lot of criticism on Scriptnotes, a podcast co-hosted by Craig Mazin and screenwriter John August. He also develops a rival to Final Draft called Highland (£20.99 UK, $29.99 US in the Mac App Store but you can get a trial version if you go via the official Highland store). You would expect August to be critical of Final Draft: not so much because it’s a rival to his own software but because he developed that software to replace Final Draft in his own work. August wrote Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Choccolate Factory, Big Fish, the Charlie’s Angels movies and more. He should be the prime target audience for Final Draft but he and Mazin have been critical enough of it that Final Draft’s CEO Marc Madnick and product manager Joe Jarvis came on the podcast to discuss the software.

It did not go well.

Marc: Hey, we made a lot of bad decisions over the years. You live and learn. This is what running a business is. We’re 40 people. There’s not an office really in the world that has 40 people dedicated to one thing. And that’s screenwriting and screenwriting software. And, quite frankly, we listen every day. We service our customers. We listen every day. We love the good comments and we listen to the negative ones. Believe me, we take them to heart.

Craig: Do you think I’ve had any interesting or reasonable criticism for your product, or you think it’s all just a bunch of bunk?

Joe: I read every single podcast.

Craig: I’m not asking if you read it. I’m saying do you agree with me?

Joe: I want to absolutely know. Do I, well –

Marc: Sure, yes. Yes, some of your criticism is warranted.

Joe: I can’t think off the top of my head.

Marc: I don’t remember those. I remember the ones that aren’t warranted.

Craig: I think that’s weird. I would remember the ones that are warranted.

Marc: Hold up. This is our business.

Craig: Yes.

Marc: We know exactly, top to bottom, what the customers want, what they need, and we listen. You have to make business decisions on how you do it, when you do it, how you implement it, not implement it. It’s really what it’s all about. But we know. We’re engaged. And we understand. And we hear the criticisms. And some of your criticisms are warranted. And some of them are, I feel you might be misinformed.

Scriptnotes, Ep 129: The One with the Guys from Final Draft — Transcript

I am so impressed that this podcast has a transcript every week. I read it because listening was proving a bit painful. I don’t have Highland, I do have Final Draft, I’ve not listened to John August before, I have seen some of his films. The headline summary from this Scriptnotes was that the Final Draft people came across as not listening.

Craig: But I can now purchase an entire new software program for half the cost of what you’re charging for an update that has a few features thrown in. And that to me seems out of whack. That’s where I just say, look, I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. The market doesn’t have right or wrong. It’s just a market.

Marc: You are in the minority. Fact.

Craig: Well, I’m in the minority now. But, I guess I’m just sort of surprised that you guys are sort of going, “And you’ll always be in the minority. We don’t see a problem. We don’t see any icebergs.”

Take a listen to the podcast here. It was actually recorded and aired in February but that episode caused enough of a flap that the next edition was about the storm it caused too. Then apparently another, different podcast took up the story and this week MacPowerUsers did too. That’s how I heard about it, I regularly listen to MPU.

So I heard about it there as MacPowerUsers interviewed John August – not just about this story – and then I went off down a rabbit hole of following the links and uncovering more. MPU linked to Scriptnotes linked to the next episode linked to the transcripts. It’s been a weird little storm took so long to reach my shore but now it’s here, I keep thinking about how Final Draft handled it and how the software itself feels like an embodiment of its makers. All software does yet you can’t always feel it as clearly as you do here.

The Scriptnotes podcast and many of the places that have followed made the analogy that Final Draft may be the QuarkXPress of its day. Quark was the page layout software that every magazine you’ve ever heard of used – until every magazine you’ve ever heard of switched to Adobe InDesign. That was partly because InDesign is just better but also Quark was fatally slow to respond and its responses were inadequate. It takes a lot to get people to switch away from a particular piece of software but once they’ve gone, you can’t get them back.

I’m not buying Final Draft 9. I haven’t regularly updated it, I think I skipped versions 6 and 7, for instance. So maybe I’ll be back for version 10. But it’s not as compelling or appealing as it once was.