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I've been a writer for nearly three decades. According to Grammarly, I average about 5 million words a year between non-fiction and fiction. Not only am I a tech journalist, but I'm also a novelist and a screenwriter (currently developing a new sitcom).
One major difference between writing novels and screenplays, be they for television or film, is the formatting of the text. Within the realm of screenwriting, formatting is absolutely critical. If you want someone to look at your script, it better be formatted properly, otherwise, it'll wind up ignored. You could search for and download a pre-formatted template for a screenplay, but that's a less-than-ideal solution, as a template for the likes of Google Docs or a traditional word processor isn't going to offer nearly the flexibility and features you need.
Instead, you should turn to an application that adheres to standard industry practices. The second you start looking for such an application, you'll find the de facto standard is Final Draft, which is a brilliant piece of software that offers more features than you'll probably ever use. One thing about Final Draft (especially for those just getting into the business of screenwriting) is that it's a bit pricey. The regular price for Final Draft is $249.999, but you'll very often find the company running specials (such as the current price of $169.99).
For a while, I was using a free application but found it somewhat limiting. That lead me to download the trial of Final Draft. Although I understand why this application is so beloved in the industry, I found the layout a bit cumbersome, so I went in search of yet another solution.
That search led me to Arc Studio, which I found to be the perfect blend of features and useability. No, it's not nearly as accepted in the industry, but it lays out scripts as well as Final Draft, offers plenty of extra features, and only costs a fraction of Final Draft. Now, before I dive deeper into this, I want to offer up a caveat to the cost. Where the Final Draft price is a one-time fee, Arc Studio is a yearly subscription. And although Arc Studio does offer a free plan, it is limited to only the web-based version (so you don't get the desktop app), PDF exports are watermarked, and you're limited to 2 scripts.
The paid Arc Studio plans are $69/year for the Essentials plan and $99/year for the Pro plan. Find out more about the plans on the pricing matrix. In the long run, Final Draft is actually cheaper, given it's a one-time fee. But for those just starting their scriptwriting journey, Arc Studio is a great alternative.
What I like about Arc Studio
There is much to like about Arc Studio. For those that like a quick-to-consume list, here ya go:
Shallow learning curve
Auto-fill for things like Scenes, Action, Characters, Parentheticals, Dialog, Shot, Transition, and more.
Easy navigation through script via scenes.
Versioning (via Drafts)
Stash (for collecting discarded text snippets)
Export to PDF, Fountain, or Final Draft
Projects, Scripts, and Dashboard views
Season outline and bible (both of which are currently in beta)
Beat board makes it easy to outline
The web interface makes it possible to write anywhere
Far easier learning curve than Final Draft
What I don't like about Arc Studio
As far as the misses, there really isn't much and can be boiled down to three things:
Subscription-based cost structure
Not nearly as widely accepted in the industry as Final Draft
The free version is web-based only with only two scripts
The benefits of using Arc Studio
I'm all about working efficiently and I go to great lengths to find ways to always be improving my workflow. Because of that, I don't want to have to worry about manually formatting documents that depend on a proper layout (Figure 1).
This is one of the many reasons why I find Arc Studio to be the ideal solution, especially for those just getting into the world of screenwriting. Arc Studio makes it dead simple to properly format your work. Type a character name in all caps and Arc Studio will automatically format it. Hit enter and you'll be dropped into the dialog format. If you first type parenthesis, Arc Studio will catch it and format it exactly as needed.
And that's pretty much how the workflow goes. Arc Studio really does a great job of holding your hand as you write. And should it miss something, you can click the element icon on the left edge of the window and select exactly what that section is (Figure 2).
This automatic formatting feature does the bulk of the formatting work for you. I've written page after page and never had to manually format a single item, simply because Arc Studio picked everything up for me.
As far as the interface is concerned, I've found Arc Studio to be exponentially easier to use than Final Draft. No, it doesn't offer nearly the feature set of Final Draft, but Arc Studio has an ideal ratio of features to usability. Just about anyone can drop into this application and start working without much of a learning curve. And with a very modern-looking UI, it should as pleasant to look at as it is functional. In comparison to nearly all other script writing tools on the market, I find Arc Studio to have the most well-designed interface that is as easy on the eyes as it is efficient to work with. And with the addition of a Kanban-like storyboard (found in the Project section), Arc Studio makes it incredibly easy to outline an entire season of your series.
Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, Arc Studio is a great alternative to Final Draft. Is it the be-all-end-all you've been looking for? Maybe or maybe not. That depends on if you're looking to work with a piece of software that offers just the right amount of features to help you get your work done or if you want something that will grow with you as you learn. If a subscription fee, a shallow learning curve, and just the right amount of features are what you're looking for, Arc Studio is a great choice, otherwise, go with Final Draft. Either way, you'll find both of these tools do an outstanding job of properly formatting your script and helping you stay organized.