Archive for the ‘Screenwriting’ Category

Freeware, Shareware, and Cheap Mac Software for Filmmakers

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

It’s been a long time since we’ve done a post that wasn’t related to Something, Anything. Back in 2007 (!), I did a post on shareware for filmmakers. That’s still the first hit you get if you google the term. So I figured it was time to do an update.

Looking over this list, it’s kind of remarkable what kind of tools you can assemble for very, very little money.

Happy New Year!



Audacity: Free. From the audacity website: “Easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems.”

Audio Hijack: $49. Allows you to record any streaming audio. Useful for all sorts of things — skype interviews, etc. Also, you may want to compare Fission (Rogue Amoeba’s $29 audio editor) against Audacity.


DaVinci Resolve

DaVinci Resolve 12: Free and Paid versions. Resolve would be on this list alone because it’s an industry-standard color grading app. What’s equally amazing is that it’s now a very useable NLE. When Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X and abandoned its venerable (but aging) Final Cut Pro 7, there was a seismic shift in the NLE landscape. Some people moved to Premiere Pro, others moved to Avid, and some adopted FCPX. I clung to FCP 7 in hopes that something would come along that was less buggy (and better supported) than Premiere, more intuitive than Avid, and more “traditional” (for lack of a better word) than FCP X. DaVinci Resolve is not perfect, but it’s elegantly designed, and the free version does 90% of what the paid version does. And of course, it’s a must have for the grading tools alone.



Apple Compressor: $50. Apple’s venerable Compressor app (part of its old Final Cut Studio suite) got a make-over when FCP X was introduced a few years ago. Now an affordable standalone app, it’s $50 and works pretty well. Users of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Adobe Media Encoder) probably don’t have a use for this, but some people (I’m one) still prefer it. VLC, Handbrake, and MPEG Streamclip (all below) are other alternatives, but I tend to go with Compressor.

MPEG Streamclip: Free. In their own words, MPEG streamclip is a “free video converter, player, editor for Mac and Windows. It can play many movie files, not only MPEGs; it can convert MPEG files between muxed/demuxed formats for authoring; it can encode movies to many formats, including iPod; it can cut, trim and join movies. MPEG Streamclip can also download videos from YouTube and Google by entering the page URL.”

Handbrake: Free. From the Handbrake website: “HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs.”



Celtx: Free (for scriptwriting app only; other features are paid). I teach first-time screenwriting students, and this is the app I always send them to because it’s free. There are paid upgrades if you want additional features (scheduling and so on). But I’ve not tried those, and I’d be reluctant to use them over Scenechronize (see below). My favorite screenwriting app is Fade In (see immediately below), but this gets the job done if you have absolutely no money.

Fade In

Fade In: $50. This isn’t shareware, but it’s affordably priced, especially considering the competition. The best, and simplest, screenwriting app I’ve ever encountered — and I’ve paid for Adobe Story, Final Draft (vers 6, 7, and 8) Movie Magic Screenwriter, and several other also-rans (plus Celtx). Fade In works with files from other screenwriting apps flawlessly, in my experience. You can import files from Final Draft, Fountain, Celtx, Adobe Story, Scrivener, PDF, and plain text, among others. The interface is just what I want: It looks good, it puts a focus on the words, and it’s easy to navigate through the script. I actually LIKE using it. There’s also an iPad app. Unfortunately it’s not nearly as solid.

Scrivener: $45. Like Fade In, this isn’t shareware. But it is an awesome tool for keeping notes, research, and drafts in order as you prep a project. The one downside is that the developer has been promising an iPad version for years, and during that time people have been leaving the app for other competitors (like Ulysses).

Libre Office and Open Office: Free. These are essentially open source versions of the applications you find in Microsoft Office. (Do I really need to explain what you’d use these for?) Anyway, some people prefer Libre Office, others prefer Open Office. My day job supplies me with a free copy of MS Office, so I don’t have much of an opinion. They’re both free — download them both and give each a spin. Of course, another option is to work in the cloud using Google Docs (see below).



App Cleaner: Free. If you’re reading this, you probably like trying new apps. The problem is that when you install new software hidden files and folders often get installed all over your computer. App Cleaner the easiest way to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. I use this all the time.

Super Duper: Free / $28 and Carbon Copy Cloner: $40. Backups are essential, and these are two great backup and disk-cloning solutions. I far prefer either to Apple’s Time Machine (which is a different thing altogether). I use SuperDuper, but Carbon Copy Cloner is very good too.

Cyberduck: Donationware. As the website states, Cyberduck is a “FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, S3, Azure & OpenStack Swift browser for Mac and Windows.” My go-to app for FTP stuff.

Movie Thumbnails

Movie Thumbnails: $3.99. This is really one of the best-kept secrets on the list. Movie Thumbnails lets you “create an overview or contact sheet of a movie combined with metadata like resolution, codec details and so forth.” We used this app to create contact sheets for every video file shot on Something, Anything, which helped us check on the wardrobe continuity or lighting for a shot from previous days of filming. Invaluable!

Pacifist: $20 shareware. This is one of those apps that you may only use once or twice, but you’ll be so glad it exists when you need it. Basically it allows you to drill down into Mac software packages to extract a single file from an installer. You may think you have no need for it, but like I said, it’s great at what it does.

QuickTime Movie NoteTaker: Free. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is still supported, and I confess I’ve not needed to use it in years.But this made the list last time and it might help someone out, so I’m listing putting here.

Self-Control: Free. The internet is a factory of distractions. If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on that screenplay, use Self-Control to shut off the internet for a while. It works.

Transcriva: $30. Transcription software for the Mac. I’ve not used this in a while, and some folks are using their NLE’s voice recognition software, but it’s still useful. While looking at Transcriva again I ran across Express Scribe — never used it, but it also worth a look if you need something like this.

White Noise Free: Free. I get distracted if I can hear random conversations, music, etc. while doing deep dive work (e.g., writing or editing). Listening to white noise and a pair of good headphones helps me stay focused.

VLC Media Player: Free. From the website: “VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.” Plays almost anything you throw at it. We use this to cue up trailers at Public Cinema screenings.



This could be a really long list, but here are a few that I use.


Scenechronize: Free and Paid versions. I used to use a very old academic edition of Movie Magic/EP Scheduling, which is really expensive, to do stripboards and scheduling. Then a few years ago we discovered this. We used the free version of Scenechronize on Something, Anything, and it was amazing. It’s so amazing that I’ve bumped it to the top of this section, out of alphabetical order. The paid version allows teams to collaborate.

Dropbox and Copy: Free and Paid versions. You know what Dropbox is. Copy is pretty much the same thing. There are lots of other web apps out there that do what these two do. When Something, Anything started being invited to festivals, each one would ask for their own set of (sometimes unique) deliverables. Instead of using Dropbox (which I use for tons of other things) I created a new Copy account and created files for each festival. This kept things clean and organized. Again, you could do this with one service (like Dropbox) but with so many players in the free cloud storage area, why not use a few?

Google Apps: Sheets and Forms. Free. I’m ambivalent about cloud computing (as in, it really sucks if you lose internet service), but I use Google’s Spreadsheet and Survey apps quite a bit. We used the spreadsheet app to keep track of everything from casting information to festival submissions to publications to approach for reviews or other coverage. Google Surveys are great, too. We used them one, for example, at the beginning of Something, Anything to poll our crew about dietary restrictions, medical conditions, and so on.

WordPress: Free. Many a great website was built on the back of WordPress. (In case you’re interested, this site is built on WP; Something, Anything‘s site is SquareSpace. SquareSpace will cost you money, maybe too much money, but it’s appealingly no fuss.)


Blender: Free. Blender is used for, as the website says, “3D computer graphics software used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games.” If you’ve ever seen my films you might suspect I know virtually nothing about this stuff. And you’d be right.

Lightworks: Free and Pro (Paid) Versions Lightworks was one of the first non-linear editors, and it’s been used to edit films like The Wolf of Wall Street, LA Confidential, Pulp Fiction, Heat, and Road to Perdition. You can compare the free and paid versions here. After Apple’s FCP debacle in 2011, I was curious about exploring this, but by the time the Mac version of Lightworks was released Resolve had emerged as a NLE candidate.

Evernote: Free and Paid versions. I’ve never been a convert, but some people — especially writers — are almost cultish in their devotion to Evernote.


Hopefully this post introduced you to one or more apps that helps you be more creative and productive. If you like something that I’ve not listed, or have thoughts on any of the above, let me know in the comments, via email, on Twitter, etc.

Adobe Story

Monday, May 2nd, 2011


I believe I’ve lamented my gripes with later versions of Final Draft (e.g., software bloat, etc.) elsewhere on this blog, but for what it’s worth, a few years ago I abandoned Final Draft as a screenwriting application. Yes, I know, it’s the “Industry Standard.”  That recognition didn’t make using it any easier. After one too many bugs, I dropped it and figured I could always convert my script to .fdr format after getting a draft out if I really needed such a thing.

Adobe Story

The problem is, I’ve struggled to find an application to replace it. Those applications have included Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, and Montage. For my last script I bounced between Screenwriter and Celtx. But as I’ve dug into a new project for the last few months I’ve been trying out Adobe Story.

And I’m here to say I’m impressed.

I’m not going to go into a full review of the application, but the thing that really has me hooked is the elegantly-designed interface. The serious, deep-grey look of the application might not be for everyone, but it really helps me stay focused on writing without distractions, especially when engaging the full screen mode. Also, the scene navigator features a color coded interface that simply illuminates at a glance which characters appear in which scenes.

Adobe Story's Interface

Some other things Story has going for it:

It saves your files to the cloud and can be used via a web browser, but it also has a downloadable application for use when working off-line and you can export your files for safekeeping on your own storage devices.

Its collaboration functions are fairly straightforward.

It imports scripts fairly seamlessly and exports in the all-imporant Final Draft format, as well as PDF, TXT, etc.

Finally, for those using the Adobe Production Suite, it interfaces with those applications. This last feature has me thinking about giving Premiere Pro a test run.

Oh, and the price is right. It’s free, at least through April 2012.

Aside from some minor, occasional bugginess (it’s still officially in beta), the major gripe I have with Story is that I can’t use it on my iPad because it uses Flash. At least not yet (see addendum below).

If you’re currently unsatisfied with the screenwriting application you’re using, even if it’s the “Industry Standard”, give it a look.

UPDATE 5/3/11: Literally a day after posting this, Adobe released the Story iPhone app. The app does not allow actual editing of scripts, only the reading of them and adding comments. Also, it’s an iPhone app, which means you have to use it on an iPad in windowed mode (or in the blurry 2x mode). While disappointing overall, it’s still a step in the right direction, particularly when one considers that the feud between Adobe and Apple over Flash might have meant no development at all for Apple’s mobile platforms.

Moved. Moving. Moves.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I took a blog-holiday for a few weeks while my lady and I moved out of one house and prepare to move into a new one (this one with some land). Since the second place is in need of some renovation before we can really call it home, all of my computers, files, and thoughts have been scattered.

Today, catching up on my reading I found this week-old piece of blogged advice from John August that speaks well to my current status, and I wanted to share it with you (and with myself, for posterity’s sake). The following is in response to the question, Which project should I write?

If you have four ideas, all equally viable, I’d recommend writing the one that has the best ending. That’s the one you’ve thought through the most, and the one you’re least likely to abandon midway. But whatever you do, just pick one and write it without delay. If you have great ideas for your other projects, absolutely take some notes, but don’t switch. Finish what you’re doing, or you’ll have a folder full of first acts.

The full post can be found here.

Resource for Writers: Occupational Outlook Handbook

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Doing some researching and writing earlier this month, I was trying to decide on an appropriate occupation for a character I was creating. One of the most helpful online resources I found was the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you visit the site, go to the search box in the upper right hand corner and type an occupation. If your search terms are too specific, just make it more general (e.g., try “dental” instead of “dental technician”, which will give you lots of results). Eventually you should be led to an overview of the profession you’re seeking, including the types of wages that might be expected, the type of education required, and so on. Useful stuff for writers, particularly the stuff about the downsides to each job. Can you say “conflict”?

Of course, besides its usefulness to writers, people that are actually, you know, looking for jobs might appreciate the link, too. Being the lucrative, high-demand profession that independent filmmaking is, though, I doubt many readers of this blog would ever need to use the site in this way.