3 Great Alternatives to Final Draft (that are either free or cheap)

B. O'Malley


blog_final-draft-alternativesFinal Draft.  I love it. And I hate it.

What do I love? It’s ubiquity: Everybody uses it. (And if you’re running a script coverage service like me, you need to be able to open whatever file the client sends in. And 95% of the time, that’s either a PDF or, you guessed it, a Final Draft file.)

What do I hate?  Well, “hate” is a strong word. I reserve that for folks like the Westboro Baptist Church,  Monsanto, and shows like The Bachelor.

But what do I strongly dislike about Final Draft?

Three major things:

Dislike 1) Its penchant for crashing in the most inopportune moments, no matter what version I have, and no matter whether I run it on my PC or my Mac.  (Of course, maybe this is just me.  i.e. someone who’s worked in IT, designed networks, and built and repaired pc’s and macs for 30 years, AKA  “a total computer dummy.”)

Dislike 2) The interface/user experience.  It feels so, well, 1994.  The game has changed when it comes to simplicity and elegance. That “1990’s desktop” feeling permeates Final Draft, and its cousin, Movie Magic Screenwriter.

To strain a metaphor, it feels like I’m driving a 1994 Ford Taurus in the age of the Smart Car and the Mini-Cooper.

Dislike 3) The price.  $250 is a big chunk of change for most screenwriters.  But I don’t blame Final Draft – they’ve created and marketed a great product that basically came to dominate the screenwriting space.

And that wasn’t just through great marketing. There are tons of great things about Final Draft, and most folks wouldn’t dream of trading their Final Draft for another screenwriting app.

But remember 1992?  That was the year Microsoft released their first Microsoft Office package.  It had Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and a precursor to Outlook called Mail.  All for the low, low price of $799.  Ahem.  $799.

Yet there’s something to be said about keeping your flagship product at a premium price. If Final Draft were to suddenly cut their price from $250 to $79, granted, a lot of old school screenwriters and industry professionals who use it might – might – take pause, and question whether or not their favorite venerable screenwriting software standard has dropped some of its features.

But is Final Draft really worried about that?

In my opinion, speaking as a screenwriter and a script reader, Final Draft is missing the big boat right now.

And that boat is:  everybody’s now a screenwriter.

A skiff attached to that boat is the fact that those screenwriters are moving faster and faster away from the “desktop” application, and more towards tablet-based apps and mobile apps.

Final Draft appears to have caught wind of this, and has developed their Final Draft Writer app for the iPad.

But here’s the big problem:  That one’s $49, which, granted, is a welcome break from the $250.  But how many screenwriters are taking a look at their $249 version, and then their $49 version, and then wondering how much is missing from the $49? At the time of this post, Final Draft’s website didn’t really give a clear idea of how the two versions’ features compare. (Maybe it’s there somewhere, and I need glasses.)

Point is: Final Draft can have its $249 desktop version, and its $49 iPad version, but in my opinion, based on my experience, that price point disparity can cause confusion, among both older screenwriters and younger, more mobile-oriented screenwriters.  And confused potential customers tend to abandon their shopping cart.

Now, sure, screenwriters who got their start during the heady days of the typewriter, like me and many of my generation, are probably not keen on the idea of writing a screenplay on a tablet, but for thousands of young screenwriters, writing movies on an iPad or an iPhone is not as far a leap. And that’s more and more becoming the reality of screenwriting. Faster.  And, if you can even conceive it, as I’ve, admittedly, had some trouble doing:  even more portable than a laptop.

I’m not going to be the one who rings the death knell on the idea of desktop apps in general, but I will say this: the day of the $249 desktop app will soon be over. I’m no Final Draft company insider, but if I was the CEO, I’d take a long hard look at what sense it makes to have a desktop app priced at $249 which doesn’t seem to be much different from the mobile app priced at $49.

Please note: I’m not here to rake Final Draft over the coals.  They put out a fine product, but that product is just, well…getting old. Meanwhile, the number of new screenwriters grows every day. How many of them 5 years from now are going to be gravitating towards a $249 price point?

How many of them can afford to pay their student loans, let alone finance a copy of Final Draft?

But take heart!  There are now cheaper and free alternatives that, in my opinion, really give Final Draft a run for its money.

Whereas software development used to be the realm of large, well-funded companies and teams made up of dozens, if not hundreds of developers and programmers, now it’s all about the smaller, more agile companies rushing in to fill an ever-increasing demand for lighter, cheaper apps.

And a few of those apps have finally gotten my attention.  And I’m a desktop guy who, up until recently, would vehemently poo-poo using anything other than Final Draft.


PC / Linux (no Mac yet)

Screenwriting Program Trelby

Wow!  This app is, hands down, the most elegant, easy-to-use, streamlined little firecracker of a screenwriting program I’ve ever used.  And I’ve used them all.

The interface is sleek, plain, and modern, and fully customizable.

I jumped right in and started writing a scene, and it just flew.  Right on to the page.  Very intuitive tabbing

For new screenwriters: By tabbing I mean, for example, you type INT. COFFEE SHOP – NIGHT, then hit Tab and it jumps down and awaits your input for the action/description line.  All good screenwriting programs do this, of course, but Trelby’s just feels FAST.  Faster than any I’ve used.

I know… I know. It’s a small thing to complain about. But those tiny bits of “lag” – even if they’re just mere milliseconds between your keystroke and what appears on the screen – they really add up.  Especially over the course of a 90-page screenplay, consisting of 6 months of work, and 20-30 drafts.

Trelby’s lag is virtually non-existent, even when I loaded in a test script.  Oh, and by the way, Trebly inputs Final Draft files, and saves Final Draft files, so if you’re thinking of making the switch, you can do so in a very friendly, non-destructive way.

Other great features I love about Trelby:  it exports Fountain markup.  (Fountain is the new open-source markup language that lets a lot of different new screenwriting apps share a common script formatting standard.  Think of it as a behind-the-scenes bit of code that standardizes how a screenplay is supposed to look, which is shareable and FREE for new, smaller developers to use and incorporate into any new screenwriting software they’d like to create or enhance.)

The only major drawback to Trelby that I could find was that it doesn’t have the ability to lock and color-code revision pages.  If your production is going to PINK, there’s nothing I could find in the software or on the website that enables you to do it with as much ease as you would in Final Draft or Screenwriter.

But for me, the lightweight feel of Trelby, and its ability to export to Final Draft, are the things that are gonna compel me to give Trelby a shot on my next screenplay. For me, the lag is unbearable on other software packages, so this is a real lifesaver. For others, they may not care or even notice the lag, so Trelby would be less appealing, especially without the easy color-revision pages feature.

The good news is, Trelby is open source and seems to be adding features all the time.


(FREE. Paid version available)

Screenwriting Program CeltXAvailable for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Celtx has been around for a while, and they’ve won over a lot of screenwriters with their feature-packed free screenwriting software, and their cloud-based paid version.

Both feature all the goodness you’d expect from a world-class screenwriting program, but the paid version offers a few more wells and bhistles. The most prominent of those features being clip art you’d use for scene blocking/storyboarding, etc.

The suite is responsive enough, but the major drawback for me is the sheer amount of clunk and window space it takes up. It seems everything you do opens up another window, and it fills up your screen pretty fast. Not to mention the amount of tabs, buttons, and menus can really be daunting for the uninitiated.

The suite itself is powerful and quickly becoming its own standard. But the design and usability? It definitely feels like sitting down in front of an Avid video editing program for the first time.  And I’m not sure that’s a good thing for all screenwriters.


($49. Demo available for free download)

Screenwriting Program FadeIn

Available for PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOs

FadeIn’s demo?  Annoying as all hell.

But its feature list?  Impressive.  And its design and usability is somewhere between Trelby and Celtx.  But the good news is that the interface, colors and all, are all customizable.

FadeIn is impressive. It’s a great little program, and packs a wallop of elegance and usability, as well as all the features you’d expect from a screenwriting package.  Scene navigator, easy tabbing, lots of import/export options (to/from Final Draft and many others), and even page-color/revisions.

For $49, it may be worth it to just jump right in. I advise not trying the demo, as it’ll only drive you away.  The underlying program is solid and I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

The bottom line:  Final Draft is still the big gorilla. It’s still the industry standard.  But with more and more modern, elegant, streamlined, super-responsive, and future-proof desktop and mobile screenwriting apps hitting the market, and especially with their increasing compatibility with Final Draft files, you owe it to yourself as a smart screenwriter to take a second look.

Final Draft will probably always be there in case you’re not happy. Read their response to my blog post here. But with so many new awesome screenwriting program choices, how can anyone not be happy? 

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43 Comments on “3 Great Alternatives to Final Draft (that are either free or cheap)”

  1. David Lamhauge

    Trelby is an “elegant, easy-to-use, streamlined little firecracker of a screenwriting program…”.
    As you have noticed, you can’t lock the script, and the developeres have stated thet it NEVER will get this feature.
    Their argument is that the software design will make it virually impossible to implement, and that you, if your script is accepted and goes into production, can afford to buy Final Draft.

    1. B. O'Malley

      Yeah, I did notice that, and mentioned it in my article as a drawback. But one of the key differences between Trelby and Final Draft is that Trelby’s source code is freely available to developers to make their own versions or add their own features based on the Trelby code, so I wouldn’t rule out future features or versions. Not to mention, the program has a great import/export to/from Final Draft if needed.

    1. B. O'Malley

      Mostly because of the popups asking you to buy/register. But I can imagine the program without those popups, of course. It’s just hard to really get into it when they keep slapping across my screen.

  2. Rajat Das

    I am a novelist adapting my own work to a screenplay using Trelby. Now, trelby does not allow copy and paste between itself and the system clipboard. The Trelby manual does however mention that this is possible but fails to list the command that can achieve this. Any idea how this can be done? I thank you in advance.

    1. Ben

      This is my main complaint with Trelby. I’ve been using it for a few months now, and this bit makes copying old scenes into new drafts a real hassle. You can copy blocks of text to the system clipboard, but they come back unformatted, or formatted poorly, which means you’re going to spend time formatting everything just to copy between drafts in the same program. Major drawback, but for someone who can’t afford Final Draft, just something we have to deal with for now. Otherwise, this is a great program.

    1. jack

      Can you at least tell us if it has support for retina Macs?
      Current version looks so fuzzy it’s borderline unusable.

  3. Mark Mushakian

    This entry isn’t exactly new, but I wanted to be sure I extend my thanks for making me aware of Trelby! Writing isn’t my career endeavor (a hobby and passion, though, for sure), so even with a student discount, Final Draft just wasn’t a justifiable expenditure for me. Trelby’s just what I was looking for 🙂

  4. Chris

    My biggest beef with Celtx is that their stageplay formatting is incorrect. FadeIn looks pretty solid in that area.

  5. Afra

    Thank you so much for posting this! I knew about Celtx but am happy to check out Trelby. It’s kind of depressing, but yeah, $250 is a lot for me right now, Final Draft. (I hope that for any aspiring screenwriter, they can look back one day and think the concept of $250 being a lot of money is hilarious…)

  6. Donald

    Final Draft has discounts for current students, teachers, military, government, non-profit organizations, senior citizens over 50, film/television industry professionals and we also have competitive upgrades if you own another product. You can actually get the price down to $129.99 with proof of purchase of another screenplay product.

  7. BrandonN

    They didn’t mention that the playwriting templates for CeltX are nonstandard. They don’t even remotely come close to the standards expected by Samuel French or the Dramatist Guild.

  8. Cliff

    This might sound weird, but I’ve heard a few rumors from fellow screenwriters that Celtx steals your script ideas through their “cloud” service.

    Any truth to this? I have to admit, I did think it was a bit weird it asked me to connect to the internet upon installation.

  9. Daniel

    Hahaha, Cliff. They connect to the internet so you can connect your software to your online account, and can save your projects to your online folder too.
    It’s not stealing your ideas, you don’t need to worry.

  10. Alex

    For me the HUGE drawback of Celtx was how different something could look on the screen as compared to when you printed it out. I’m surprised that didn’t even make it’s way into this article, as it was the one thing that truly drove me to Final Draft. What I see on the program prints out-and I love that.

  11. Nate Storm RX

    Though I definitely agree that often times the Celtx screen to page placement issues do become annoying, I would only point out two things.

    Celtx is primarily for storyboarding. Or at least, that is the main function it performs well..

    And the second being that, ultimately it IS a GREAT option if you’re broke or a writer/storyboard guy with have the patience to learn ways around the placement issues, when printing.

    Its also a good alternative program, simply because if you have a non funded writing staff all using Celtx, there are no real issues. Beyond that, every writer should learn to storyboard their ideas.

    And for those worried about having their ideas stolen. You have a far greater chance of that happening in an unrepresented studio meeting where they “pass” on your project, then it happening via Celtx.

    You dont have to connect with Celtx, if you chose not to do so.

    keep writing.

  12. ben

    Nice article! I’m wondering what your thoughts are on ScriptBuddy.com. It seems like there are a lot of features here that would work well for a beginner. I’m currently a TA for an intro to film class and I want something the entire class can collaborate on (similar to Google Docs, but with a screenplay); thus far, I’ve run into road blocks.

    1. B. O'Malley

      Hey Ben! I haven’t checked out ScriptBuddy, but I will! As far as class collaboration, try WriterDuet.com I believe you can have multiple writers on that, and I believe it’s still free.

  13. Dan Fitzgerald

    I’ve been fairly happy with Fade In. I would really like the option of creating custom reports. One of the bugs that sticks in my head is that changing text colors will strip out any other formatting which has been applied. Also FI will render a printed page that is slightly different than one that has converted to PDF first. Not sure if that’s the software, or something else down the line. I just know that FI printed pages are slightly more left aligned.

  14. H

    I’m planning on submitting a script and the company are asking for Final Draft or similar formatting. Will Trelby automatically provide me with this or do I have to set up the format (if at all)? I’m a newbie to scriptwriting as you can probably tell. Thank you.

    1. B. O'Malley

      Yep, Trelby, like the rest of the apps mentioned do just that. If the company is asking for not just “Final Draft or similar formatting,” but rather “the script file in Final Draft format,” then Trelby can do that too, as it can export to Final Draft file format. To be honest, I’ve recently become a convert of the screenwriting app Highland, and do the bulk of my writing in that app, using the FD or Screenwriter for production / breakdown purposes.

  15. Joseph Chastain

    From my experience, Celtx makes your scripts seem longer than they really are. I was a long time Celtx user who recently switched to Trelby.

  16. Jeff Andrews

    Great review! I’ve been using Celtx for a few years, its cool to write a script with it but for storyboards its really difficult to use. For the past few weeks I’ve been using Action Pro and I like almost everything about it http://www.Action-Pro.tv I like the fact that the shot lists are automatically generated for you based on your storyboards, really awesome stuff

  17. Grace_from_Dogville

    It’s sad that Celtx doesn’t support downloadable PC version anymore. It only supports online-based system. I had old downloaded file and installed on my PC, and it deleted itself. That’s bad! Maybe someone likes to be offline when they write or maybe they don’t have any internet connection, then what should writers do? whatever.

  18. Heather_BloodForceTrauma_Zack

    I had final draft 8, a friend actually bought it for me, but I’m no longer in contact with them, thus I’m out of a program… as of right now even at $129.00 and then having to have proof of a previous purchase, is still a bit too much for my parents to pay… as I don’t have a job, if I did I’d buy it in an instant because it was simple to use the first time I started using it and didn’t need a tour of how to use the program… I can’t use any other program and I don’t really want to – I don’t really see how the milliseconds add up, sure mine does lock up a bit, but it doesn’t [as far as the last time I used it on my old drive] crash, the only ‘crashing’ was my system because either the CPU fan was clogged with dust bunnies, or the power supply was buggy, or sticky and filter keys option on XP could have been what caused it… either way I’m out of sticky-keys as well.

    wish there was a way I could transfer all the program files from one drive to another, or grab the activation code and use that very same code for the one on the new drive… as they have a limit on how many programs can be ran at one time… probably even on a disconnected hard drive… but I hope not or I may very well have to find another program that of which won’t be as wonderful as final draft and I’ll just have to submit my work without all the better words.

    1. mikehalloran

      Final Draft Customer Support is very good about restoring your authorizations when you change systems without de authorizing first like, say after a crash that requires a system restore. FD 9 is even easier in that regard and doesn’t require a phone call

  19. Chrystopher Reagan

    Trelby is amazingly easy to use. I’m not sure why anyone would choose to spend money on final draft.

  20. Jim Porter

    I use Linux Mint. The downloads mention specifically Debian/Ubuntu and Generic tar.gz. Does that mean that Trelby will not interface with Linux Mint? (What I don’t know about computers is infinite and growing.)

  21. Fiona

    Thanks for this breakdown. I’m going to try Trelby, and if I end up needing FD, then I’ll just buy it then. I can probably afford it (although I’d prefer not to spend $250 if I don’t need to!), but the stories of the crashes made me figure I could work with a free program for a while. Highland sounds intriguing, but I only own PCs/Android. Alas!

  22. Will Keizer

    Mr. O’Malley,
    I chuckled at your #2 dislike of the interface. When I first got the trial version of Final Draft and opened it, the interface looked so dated and ugly that I thought I’d downloaded or opened the wrong software. That mid-90s microsoft look really distracts me.

  23. Todd Novak

    It appears that CeltX no longer has a downloadable free version, at least for Mac. If it does it I can’t find it. They do have a free version you can do online in your browser, but I’d prefer to store my work on my computer instead of the cloud where I won’t have access if I’m not connected. I also like to keep my applications separate. I’d rather not do my work in a browser window. It’s too bad…

  24. Julie A

    Hi, I’m new to scriptwriting. I’ve been writing my script in the final draft trial version, this has now ended and I need help! I can’t afford to buy Final Draft so I’m thinking of using Trelby, as recommended.

    All the features are locked in final draft and I can’t print it out. You mention importing in to Trelby. Does this mean I can import my saved script from the locked up trial version of Final Draft?

    Any help you can give would be brilliant as I’m at a loss as to how to progress with my script.

    1. B. O'Malley

      Hi Julie – Trelby imports Final Draft files. If you’re on a PC and have Trelby, give it a try! I just did it and it works fine.

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