I have always had an interest in film and television, but I have only recently started to venture in to writing for the medium. One of the catalysts for my interest is Scriptnotes, a fantastic podcast with screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin. They just came back from a holiday break and they are hitting it out of the park. Episode 125 is centered on dissecting an old post from Jeff Atwood (of StackExchange fame) called The 10 Commandments of Egoless Programming, and Episode 126 had a chunk on screenwriting software, specifically Final Draft 9. If you have any interest in technology you should listen to it (Then stay for the Three Page Challenges). Final Draft has remained relatively unchanged for years, but still dominates the entire screenwriting app market. Just a word processor, so what? It’s a $199.99 Mac App Store purchase which puts it in a unique weight-class. Final Draft also has mobile companion apps for iPad and iPhone. The iPad version appeared in Apple’s new, aspirational advertisement last Sunday.
What follows is an excerpt transcribed from 22 minutes in to Episode 126, but I strongly encourage you to listen to the entire conversation, particularly for Craig’s passion.
CRAIG I just don't understand what -- If this is what they were doing, why did it take this long, exactly? JOHN I don't understand -- That's a very good question. CRAIG The other thing that bothers me about Final Draft is that they are so clearly driven by a naked desire for revenue over taking care of their userbase -- CRAIG (CONT'D) At least that's my opinion -- JOHN ^ Mm-hmm. CRAIG (CONT'D) because a lot of these features should have just been released, incrementally, as free updates on top of 8. There is **nothing** here that justifies a brand new release. and to charge whatever they charged. What does this thing cost? JOHN It's an 80 Dollar upgrade. CRAIG 80 Dollar upgrade! In a world where the entire operating system for Mac is free! And you're going to charge 80 Dollars for **what**? For colored pages -- That you don't need. And ... what? JOHN For full -- For full screen mode that really should have been a point one release. CRAIG Full screen mode and Retina compatibility? That's outrageous. JOHN Yeah. CRAIG And that's the upgrade! I mean, what does it cost new? JOHN Umm, 199, I believe. CRAIG Oh please. We live in a time where you cannot -- I'm sorry -- to sell a piece of *word processing* for a hundred and what? JOHN 99 dollars. CRAIG I mean **what**?! Are you out of your mind when you can get Highland for how much, John? JOHN Uh, Highland is 29.99, right now. CRAIG I think FadeIn is 40 bucks? JOHN Yeah CRAIG Uh, It's **ridiculous**. It just doesn't make any damn sense. JOHN Yeah CRAIG I think -- I don't get it -- I think that, frankly, Final Draft is, um, they are perilously close to being disrupted, as the Silicon Valley term goes. Because nobody cares about this Final Draft crap any more, we're in the age of PDF for transmission. They're going to go bye-bye.
John goes on to play devil’s advocate, briefly, when discussing several limitations of competing screenwriting apps, mostly in the area of script revisions. They are, as Craig said, perilously close to being usurped if they think this situation will last much longer.
John August is a co-developer of the Fountain markup language, and the Highland app that functions as a converter for files to, and from, FDX, PDF, and Fountain plain text. The work he has put in to Fountain, along with the other developers, has allowed competitors to emerge and start to challenge Final Draft. Craig mentions FadeIn, which imports and exports Fountain to its own format, but there is also the popular Slugline which uses Fountain natively , and many other alternative apps, all using Fountain as leverage against Final Draft’s “.docx”-like hold on the market.
Here’s a short video John August made to demonstrate some key features of Fountain, and some drawbacks of Final Draft (and WYSIWYG in general):
The Slugline developers have their own video boasting WYSIWYG-ish functionality through on-the-fly parsing of what’s been typed. This bridges the gap between truly plain text, and the visual cues of what the final output will be. This is similar to ByWord’s approach to Markdown (which makes a small cameo).
On the same day as Scriptnotes 126, ArsTechnica released some thoughts on the fall of desktop publishing giant QuarkXpress. It is not pure coincidence that many of the reasons cited for QuarkXpress’ fall are cited by John and Craig as current issues for Final Draft. This was not lost on John and Stu Maschwitz (Fountain, and Slugline developer) either.
Yesterday, January 15th, Slugline got its first major update since it premiered mere months ago. The developers are moving at a quick pace, and they are clearly motivated to gain traction while Final Draft sleepwalks. I have no vested interest in winners and losers here, but I do like it when increased competition can lower the barrier of entry to the tools needed.