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Showdown! Celtx, Final Draft, or Movie Magic Screenwriter?

June 19, 2011

Although I’ve just authored a book entitled Mastering Celtx, the last thing I’m going to do is tell you that Celtx beats Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter as a screenwriting program, any more than I would tell you that a screwdriver is better than a hammer or pliers.

The analogy is apt because these are all tools, and while there may be more overlap between the software applications than exists between the different tools I mentioned, differences still exist.

Holding a showdown or a competition between a screwdriver and a hammer is, of course, silly – and a showdown between authoring software packages is equally non-productive.

As a professional screenwriter, I’ve used Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter for most of my career. While I may have a slight preference for Movie Magic Screenwriter because of the way some features are handled, it doesn’t really make any difference to me which application I use: I will typically see if the producer has a preference, and my main goal is simplifying the workflow on a production.

If I personally get hired tomorrow on a feature film project or episodic television project, I’ll probably still use Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. The people I work with are all used to these applications, and there are a few large production-specific features that these programs facilitate.

But if I come on board an independent project (feature, corporate, whatever), I’ll have no problem using Celtx either. It’ll do everything I need – and does more than a few things that the big boys can’t do.

Who else should use Celtx? A sampling of potential users:

  • If you’re writing your first (or tenth) feature-length spec screenplay, using Celtx is just fine. Save your money for the rent. Worried that “Hollywood” will be concerned you’re using Celtx? Trust me, Hollywood could care less: write a great screenplay, and then you should have the problem of someday having to export the script to Final Draft because of a producer’s preference (and guess what? – Celtx’s export feature will do the job).
  • If you’re a student assigned to a write an outline or script, save your money and use Celtx. Your school lab might have Final Draft, but you can use Celtx on your own laptop, iPad or even iPhone. Way more convenient than heading to the school lab to write!
  • If you’re part of a small production shop, don’t spend the money on Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter for everyone. Save your money for equipment. Use Celtx in combination with Celtx Studio ($5/month for 5 users), and you’ll have a really powerful pre-production suite and project management basecamp.
  • If you’re writing a web series that you’re producing, use Celtx – a single project file can contain dozens of episode scripts, and handle everything from storyboarding to scheduling.
  • If you’re a documentary filmmaker or a project manager for a low-budget serious game, Celtx will make it easy to write voiceover narrations, cut scenes and onscreen textboxes, and pull together all kinds of research links, documents, and media assets.
  • If you’re scripting media content and also storyboarding and scheduling the shoot, Celtx will handle it all.
  • If you’re writing a comic book or novel, Celtx has a template for you – so you can concentrate on content, not format.

If I was a new screenwriter today, I wouldn’t bother buying Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. I’d use Celtx until someone made it worth my while buying one of the industry leaders. And Celtx would still remain in my software toolbox, because for many kinds of projects, it really can’t be beat.

Are there other low-cost or no-cost authoring/scripting tools we might compare Celtx to?  Yes, there are — and a future post will take a look at them too.

  1. brannon permalink

    I have an issue maybe you can help me with. I have written 1/4 of a movie on final draft then found my program does not work on the latest version of windows when I got a new computer. I do not want to pay for a new version of final draft. I just want to get my movie out so I can put it on celtx. How do I open my movie without final draft?

    • You’ll need Final Draft in order to export your script to a text file (hopefully you still have your old computer!). Once you’ve done that, you can import the text file into Celtx: typically, imports are very “clean”, although you should always check the full contents to see if any “clean up” of elements is necessary.

    • Celtx should open it…

  2. Miquiel Banks permalink

    Great Post, my thoughts exactly……

  3. TALK NORMAL permalink

    “Trust me, Hollywood could care less: write a great screenplay, and then you should have the problem of someday having to export the script ….”


    … COULDN’T CARE LESS… is the correct usage

  4. GParks permalink

    I believe that Final Draft is in big trouble. They are going down with the PC. Their expensive desktop software with its licencing keys and tech support is set up to profit them. Open source Celtx’ Low cost or no cost, On the cloud. On my iPad Celtx. Final draft is

  5. This blog post helps me feel comfortable with using Celtx. Looks like I may be collaborating with a screenwriter based in the U.K. (I’m in the U.S.). He’s asked what I’m using so I hope we will be compatible. I’m have Celtx open now and don’t see a template for TV scripts. I will be writing a TV miniseries. Any suggestions on which template to use for it. Thanks. ~Val Oliver

    • My professional opinion is that the standard Master Scene Format (i.e., the film template) will work just as well for a TV miniseries. The only significant variation on the Master Scene Format is when you’re working with the class 3-camera sitcom setup. I think Final Draft has oversold the need for “templates”.

  6. I have switch to Celtx beause there is a portable app version that I can use from a flash drive so no matter where I am or what computer im useing I have software with me!

  7. Ccaton permalink

    Does celtx do episodic format?

    • Celtx has one generic single-camera master scene format template (their “screenplay” template). Generally, this will work just fine for most episodic TV (3-camera sitcoms excluded).

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