If you are now, or have ever been a Hollywood scriptwriter, you’ll know that scripts have to be formatted in a very specific way. You can do it with a word processor, but it’s not easy. What is easy is Movie Magic Screenwriter, which provides you with all the tools you need to quickly and easily format screen, stage and radio plays, sitcoms, episodic TV drama, novels and even multimedia/animation scripts.
The easiest way to think of Screenwriter is as an intelligent word processor that understands the structure of a script. Launch the software and it opens with a new blank screenplay. Press enter and you are given the option of starting your script with “FADE IN”. Press enter for yes (or click no) and screenwriter pops up a list of scene headings. Type the first letter of the heading you want and it is automatically inserted (e.g. type I and INT. is entered…). Now type a location e.g. MC REBBE’S LOUNGE and press enter. Each time you enter a new location, Screenwriter remembers it. When you next select a scene heading, a list pops up showing all of the locations entered so far and you can select one by typing just its beginning.
Scene headings normally end with a time of day, so once you’ve entered your location, up pops a list with various options such as ‘MORNING’, ‘AFTERNOON’, ‘MOMENTS LATER’, etc. Choose one (or not), press enter and type an action element e.g. “MC REBBE, hip, cool, a sex machine, sits on the window ledge of his multi million dollar mansion. As the warm glow of the sinking LA sun reflects off his bling, he ponders life whilst polishing his Uzi.”
Now press tab and Screenwriter expects you to enter a character name element. Once again, whenever you enter a new character name, Screenwriter remembers it, allowing you to enter that character’s name in the future by just typing its starting letters. Type some dialogue and when you’ve done that, either press tab to enter a new character name element, or press enter for a new action element, or press enter twice for a new scene heading.
Believe it or not, I’ve just taught you the basics of Movie Magic Screenwriter…and it hasn’t even taken the ten minutes that the manufacturers claim, in their accompanying ten minute tutorial…yes, it really is that straightforward.
If you want to write something other than a film, just open the appropriate template before you start typing. As well as templates for stage and radio plays, novels and a special two column format for multimedia/animation, Screenwriter ships with templates for 50 popular American sitcoms and TV dramas….half of which are no longer in production…well, that’s showbiz… Just open one (they come with all the characters and regularly used locations built in) and away you go.
If that don’t butter your bagel, you can use Screenwriter’s comprehensive script format editor to build your own templates….but…cue the pointillistic music inducing a building sense of tension…Hollywood, we have a problem… Being an American app, geared towards the North American industry, Screenwriter defaults to a standard American paper size (which is shorter than the British equivalent). Although you can change the paper size in the print options, when you do, any text that has already been typed will be reformatted, which may result in changes like dialogue that you previously had on one page, being broken over two, etc., so if your script is destined for somewhere outside of North America, you have to remember to select the correct paper size before doing anything else, otherwise, ironically you may end up having to reformat things manually, later on. This could easily be resolved by including a paper size selector in the format editor, so that once you have created a new template, whenever chosen, that template automatically defaults to the appropriate paper size.
Naturally you get all the word processing functionality you would expect, like a spell checker (yes there is an English English dictionary option…and once again it would be extremely useful if you could set the default language on a per template basis) and a thesaurus with the option to allow swear words, which, according to the manual, when enabled “will display vernacular swear words as synonyms for words like excrement…” well excrement man, I’d better make like a bad mater fornicator and turn that one on quick…
You also get the option to turn your script into a PDF, have it read out loud using your OS’ text to speech engine and to design a cover page using the built in WYSIWYG title page editor. But one of the features that writers will find most useful is ‘I Partner’, the built in chat/remote software that, according to the manual, allows you to “write, edit and kibitz over the same script as if you were in the same room together”…nice…and extra credit for use of Yiddish (hey, I’m living in England right now…I’ll take whatever I can get…).
Many writers use index cards to organise their scripts, noting details about each scene on a separate card and removing/adding/changing the order of these cards as necessary until they reach a point where they are ready to start writing. Screenwriter lets you do this electronically, in a separate window (and then transfer the content of these ‘cards’ to your script). You can display cards horizontally (from left to right) or vertically, which is great if you’re writing in English or Chinese, but what if your script’s in Hebrew? Now you know why Lemon Popsicle is the only Israeli film ever to be made…
And if that’s not enough, Screenwriter also includes a bunch of powerful production tools. You can ‘tag’ script elements (no spray paint required) such as props, sound FX and costume, then print breakdowns which can be sorted by various criteria like location, time of day, characters and/or export them to Movie Magic Scheduling. There’s also support for most of the various ‘A scene’ numbering systems around and for the Hollywood production colours (or should that be colors) system.
On the downside, The Mac version lacks some of the features of its window counterpart, which, incidentally, could do with a bit of a face lift as it looks more Windows 9x than Windows XP; there are only 20 levels of undo (with every mouse click considered one level); and you can only display a maximum of 12 index cards at one time (which, with ever expanding screen sizes and resolutions, is a limitation). Nevertheless, Movie Magic Screenwriter is powerful, easy to use and puts at your fingertips everything you need to be a playa…apart from a green light and a bucket full of cash. Larry Gelbart and Douglas Adams have both sung its praises, if that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.
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