Screenwriting on a Budget

screenwriterA good script is the foundation of a good film. If you’re still scribbling notes and snippets of dialogue on Starbucks napkins because you’re afraid to shell out for proper screenwriting software, I can assure you there’s a better way.

While the defacto screenwriting software is Final Draft, it’s currently going for $249. That can be a bit discouraging for those of you who haven’t used screenwriting software before and want to invest in the industry standard. The good news is, you really don’t have to buy Final Draft at all to get started writing on your computer.

Here are some less expensive, or even free software alternatives that can be just as effective as Final Draft.

1. Microsoft Word Templates

Grab a free downloadable screenplay template here. If you don’t have Microsoft Word, Open Office is free and works just as well.


  • You’re most likely already familiar with the software
  • Create your own keyboard shortcuts
  • Insert images and special characters
  • Revision tools (depending on your version of Word)


  • Tabbing around doesn’t work
  • Doesn’t automatically take you from character to dialogue
  • Lots of backspacing placeholders the first time

This option is really more for a beginning screenwriter. If you’re intimidated by too many buttons and options and you just want something familiar, a Microsoft Word template could be the way to go.

2. Celtx

Download the software free here.


  • Regularly updated software
  • Built in online community for easy file-sharing and group work
  • Templates for film scripts as well as theatre scripts, storyboards, comic books, and novels


  • Some pre-production tools cost extra
  • Monthly payments for extended online services
  • You have to create an account and take a 15-day free trial of their online studio package in order to download the free version

Celtx is an extremely convenient platform for screenwriting. Final Draft has a lot of bells and whistles, customization options and other things, which most of which you will never find the need to figure out how to use. If all you want is software that will allow you to quickly and easily type a properly formatted screenplay, Celtx is for you.

That’s not all it’s got, though. Celtx can also help you create production schedules, script reports, call sheets, shooting reports, etc. all in the free version. You can pay a measly $15 to get the full desktop version, which includes clip art for shot blocking and sketching, index cards with a timeline, and a few other unnecessary but fun customization options. For just $9 a month, you get the personal online package lets you share production files, storyboards, schedules, and budgets online instead of just scripts. It might be worth it for a month or two while a project is in full swing. It’s up to you.


Visit the sitedownload the software if you’re a pro member.


  • Great online community of writers
  • Free to sign up
  • Enter contests right from the site


  • Most services require an Internet connection or pro membership ($10 a month or $90 for eternity)

This site can be a useful, albeit basic screenwriting resource. No download required so you can write from a public computer if need be.

4. Scrivener

Check out the site here.


  • Amazing organizational tools for writers


  • Costs about $40

I only mention this software on behalf of you ambitious, disorganized folks whose screenplays are currently just piles of research and scattered notes (like on those aforementioned Starbucks napkins). At least take the 30-day free trial and get yourself out from under that mess.

5. Adobe Story

Adobe has a free version of it’s feature rich screenwriting software with a $9.99/month version if you need collaboration or planning functionality. Sign up for a free account and check it out.


  • Feature rich
  • Cloud based so accessible anywhere you can get to a computer
  • Free for screenwriting capabilities
  • Great import tools so you can bring in your script from wherever else you wrote it


  • Based on Adobe Flash so limited mobile capabilities

Ultimately you should pick the tool that works best for you and fits your budget – but it’s good to know there’s a number of great tools out there available to help you write the next Citizen Kane.

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3 Responses to "Screenwriting on a Budget"
  1. Gerrit Thompson says:

    I’d like to plug a couple more alternatives:

    Free full-feature demo.
    $50 for unlocked version. Available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
    $5 for iOS or Android app.

    -Regularly updated.
    -Developer is easy to reach and responds to questions on Twitter and Facebook.
    -Can both import and export screenplays in Final Draft, Fountain, Adobe Story, HTML, Scrivener, and PDF formats.
    -Dropbox integration in desktop and mobile platforms.
    -Mobile version offers pretty decent editing capabilities.
    -Industry standard script breakdowns and production reports.
    -Offers additional templates free for download, including Final Draft screenplays, Warner Bros. screenplays, stage plays, comic books, and radio plays.
    -Developer has promised that all future updates will be free.

    -Doesn’t offer some of the production tools that Final Draft has.
    -Since it’s still version 1, the occasional weird bug will pop up but the developer is usually quick to fix it.

    A comparison feature list for Fade In, Final Draft, Movie Magic, Adobe Story, and Celtx:
    The feature list is slanted in Fade In’s favor, obviously, but it does give a great breakdown of its capabilities.

    Despite being only a few years old, it’s a very robust screenwriting application with a clean interface. The developer is working hard on making it better than Final Draft.

    Free to use.
    Conversion tools extra.

    Fountain is a plain text markup language for screenwriting that was developed by John August (screenwriter of Go, Frankenweenie, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels). It’s not an app; it’s actually a way to write a screenplay in any text editor you want by using a simplified screenplay format. The goal is pretty much to keep you from worrying about tabbing between formats and focus on your writing. You can then use another program to convert your text file into a properly formatted screenplay.

    -It’s free.
    -You can use any text editor you want. Can be desktop, mobile, or both.
    -The syntax makes sense, for the most part.

    -You have to use another program to turn the text file into a screenplay, and some of them cost money. Here’s a list of apps:
    -It takes a while to get into the habit of writing in the Fountain syntax.
    -No production features like colored pages or revision marks.

    Here’s the syntax for Fountain:

    Fountain was developed so you don’t have to worry about the formatting when you’re writing — you just write. The formatting comes later, when the script is ready. You still have to learn the syntax, though, if you want the conversion process to work properly.

  2. I started using a free screenplay template for Apple Pages that works between Mac and iOS devices. While it is compiled according to Final Draft’s Cole & Haag standard, it doesn’t feel as buggy and features a much better spell checker. It can be downloaded here:

    If needed, one can export the Pages-document (via Highland) to the popular FDX format which offers integration to such programs as Fade In, Adobe Story, et al.

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