Final Draft 5.0 – Review

Final Draft 5.0
Company: Final Draft, Inc.
Estimated Price: $249

Final Draft: A Review

Television and cinema are such impressive media, that sometimes we forget that TV sitcoms, dramas, and movies begin as written scripts or screenplays. When you consider the number of television channels broadcasting and the revival of the movie industry, it is clear that there are many screenplays being marketed and sold.

There are two overlapping facets of any written work: form and content. Though the form of a letter or essay may not seem terribly important, it does have a limited impact on the reader. The form of a screenplay, on the other hand, is crucially important. It has to conform to certain industry conventions. It almost does not matter how good your content is, if the document does not meet certain standards, it implies you are sloppy and your work is not worthy of consideration.

Final Draft is a word processing program that includes styles that conform to screenplay standards; formatting features that let you to edit a script, track changes, and modify the length of scenes while keeping an understandable numbering scheme; and options for working with scripts both on-screen and with customizable printouts. Final Draft removes the worry about form and lets the writer concentrate on content.

My first impression of the software was that it amounted to nothing more than a word processing engine with several built-in styles. I even created a script, saved it in RTF format, and opened it with Word. Different styles for each element: General, Scene Heading, Action, Character, Parenthetical, Dialog, Transition, and Shot, were all defined. I wondered why a Word or Word Perfect template that included these defined styles would not give Final Draft some serious competition. I soon discovered that, though the word processing styles are an important feature of Final Draft, there is much more to this program.

The Return and Tab keys, for example, take on an almost eerie intelligence. The Return key is usually associated with ending a paragraph in word processing. In Final Draft, the key also takes you to a new element that logically follows. If you are finished typing a Scene Heading, the Return key takes you to an Action; when you have completed an Action, the Return key anticipates another Action; and after a character name, you Return to a Dialog, etc.. Meanwhile, the Tab key supplements the functions of the Return key by letting you move from Action to Character Name, Character Name to Parenthetical, etc.. It takes some getting used to, but these two keys will save you enormous amounts of time that otherwise would be required to apply different styles.

Final Draft also provides element shortcuts that let you employ Command/Number combinations to quickly change from one element to another and Macros that can be used to enter text and switch to another element. SmartType Lists automatically record information like character names or transitions as you enter them. The next time you are in the corresponding element and enter the first letter on a list, the program summons the information and gives you the option to auto-enter it. For example, if you are in a Character element and enter Rumplestiltskin, the next time you enter a character and type “R” the program will summon that name which you can accept by pressing Return or Tab. If two or more items in a list begin with the same letter, you can toggle through the possibilities by repeatedly pressing the same letter.

The Scene Navigator provides both outline and index card views of your scenes. From these views you can get a feel for how your screenplay works and you can reorder scenes, add new ones, delete existing scenes and move quickly between scenes.


One sometimes-difficult aspect writing fiction is coming up with believable names for your characters. Final Draft resolves that dilemma by including a Names Database that contains over 90000 potential names. All you need to do is enter the first few characters, and the program will produce a list meeting your requirements. I did note, however, that there were no entries for “O’” (as in O’Neil). This is an almost unforgivable oversight!

It is a sinking feeling you get when, after you have sent a written document off to an editor or producer, you suddenly notice spelling mistakes in the text. To prevent this, Final Draft includes a full-featured spell checker that lets you add words to the dictionary and flags repeated words. Besides providing synonyms and related words, the Final Draft Thesaurus also provides word definitions.

Writing dialog for a script is different from writing dialog for a short story or novel. After all, you expect script dialog will actually be spoken by actors and so how your dialog sounds is important. Final Draft facilitates this process by letting you assign different Windows or Mac voices to each character. You can then have your script read back to you by the computer. Though computer voices still leave a lot to be desired, I found this feature useful.

The software comes with templates for many of the top TV Shows currently on the air. The templates include many of the characters and locations as well as a sample script.

Final Draft will import text files and provides a Reformat tool to apply appropriate styles and transform the text into a script. The Reformat tool includes a button for each type of element and buttons for moving ahead a paragraph or going back. This was extremely useful in transforming one of the Why Files episodes into a screenplay (see MyMac, February 2000).

The program has a web-centric approach to providing Help. There are options under the Help menu to go to the Final Draft Help web site or contact the company. Choosing Final Draft Help summons your default web browser which in turn reads the Help. Though eventually, we may run all of our software from the web, today, some users will be inconvenienced by the need to run an additional RAM hungry program just to get help.

Final Draft comes with an abbreviated User’s Guide, but includes much more extensive information including tutorials in PDF documents. Personally, I prefer the real thing (in addition to the PDF file) and was disappointed with Final Draft’s approach.

Final Draft runs under both the Windows and Mac operating systems and both versions are on the single CD. I created a screenplay on the Mac and the Windows version opened it flawlessly. Similarly, the Mac had no trouble reading a script created under Windows.

Until you register your copy of Final Draft, you are required to insert the CD to run the software. Upon registration, you are authorized to do a complete install on just one computer. That is, the temporary install generates a number unique to that computer and Final Draft sends you a corresponding number to enable the full install. I found all this somewhat draconian and the procedure reminds me of the dark ages of software protection.

Final Draft 5 includes an option to register a screenplay or any other document with ProtectRite, the National Creative Registry’s intellectual property protection service. For $18.95, ProtectRite will register any document under 3 Mb in size for ten years. Larger documents can also be protected at the cost of $5 per extra megabyte. You can also retrieve a document from ProtectRite for a fee. More information about this service is available at

In conclusion, Final Draft provides all the tools you need to format and register a screenplay or script allowing the writer to concentrate on content. It’s certainly a required buy for anyone serious about writing plays, TV shows, or screenplays. Because of its awkward Help, goofy protection scheme, and limited documentation, I rate the program 4 out of 5 MyMac Mice.

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

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