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This free screenwriting app makes writing screenplays and scripts very easy

If you're looking to start writing your first screen or theatrical play, you should try this free app before you spend money on a costly solution.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The Beat main window.

Writing with Beat is a seamless and user-friendly experience.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • Beat is available for free from the Apple App store.
  • With all the basic features you need and outstanding auto-formating, you cannot go wrong with this app.
  • No built-in collaboration tools.

Everyone's a screenwriter. At least that's the way it seems these days. Walk into a coffee shop and you'll see a good percentage of patrons staring into their laptop screens. As you order your mocha, you might ponder: "How many of them are writing screenplays?"

However, there's a reason that screenwriters spend a lot of time in front of their laptops. For those of you who don't know, the formatting of either a screen or stage play is actually very important. You could write the greatest script in the history of the cinema or stage and, if it's formatted improperly, it may never get the chance it deserves. And if you've ever tried to dump a template into your office suite of choice, you've probably run into countless problems.

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That's why so many developers produce apps to take care of the job for you. At one point, I was working on the scripts for a TV series I was planning to produce. During that time, I was working with Arc Studio, which is a fantastic option. Arc Studio does have a free version, but it's limited and watermarks all PDF exports. If you want to purchase Arc Studio, it'll run you either $69 or $99 a year. If you're just now dipping your toes in the cool waters of screen/script writing, you might not want to drop the coin for something that may or may not pan out. 

That's where Beat comes in. Recently, I decided my idea for the TV series could get a new life in a different form, so I picked it back up and planned massive rewrites for every episode. The problem was my Arc Studio app license had to be renewed and I really wasn't up for paying for software that I wasn't sure I would continue using. At the same time, I remember testing Beat before I opted to use Arc. I remembered Beat being a serviceable tool that didn't include a vast array of features, but that it was perfectly capable of handling all the basics.

Beat includes the following features:

  • Automatic formatting
  • Focus modes (for distraction-free writing)
  • Files are saved as plain text, so they can be used with other apps
  • Import multiple formats
  • Outlining, revisions, scene numbering, and statistics
  • Plugin support
  • A sidebar for outlines, notes, reviews, and stats
  • Open-source software

The only caveats with Beat that I can find is that it's only available for MacOS and it doesn't include any built-in collaboration tools (beyond a share feature).

Beat is free, but you can always donate to the developer via PayPal or Patreon.

My experience with Beat

You'll remember that I was coming to Beat from an app called Arc Studio that was as close to industry standard, without being the screenwriting application Final Draft, as you'll find. Arc Studio is very good and easy to use, and it's something I might return to. In the meantime, I'm sticking with Beat.

That's because even with its few faults, Beat is as simple as it gets. You can just open a file and start writing. With other scriptwriting tools, there are often all sorts of hoops to jump through before you get to the task that actually matters…writing.

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I'm someone who writes "without a net". I don't outline, I don't plan, I don't wring my hands and consider every angle of every moment of a book or script. I do a gut check and let my instincts take over. That's what first drafts are for, after all. I find Beat is the ideal tool for people like me who just want to get on with writing. 

That focus doesn't mean there aren't other handy features in Beat that I might use in the future. For instance, if you right-click (or double fingertap) on a highlighted part of the current script you're writing, you'll find all sorts of handy tools, such as search, share, spelling/grammar, substitutions, transformations (such as for upper/lower case and capitalization), speech, layout, scene color, mark as revised/removal, and more. 

The Beat right-click menu.

There are plenty of available tools in the right-click menu.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Yet the truth is that I've yet to use that right-click menu. That's because I find Beat's automatic formatting to be quite good. Type a character name in all caps, hit Enter, and you're automatically writing dialog. The one formatting issue I've come across is scenes. If you type a scene number and hit Enter, Beat will automatically format it as a character. The trick, however, is to ignore what you assume to be standard formatting. Instead of typing the text in all caps, do this:

int. jeremy's apartment - morning

Beat will automatically format your text as a scene indicator in all caps with the correct alignment. The software will even automatically add a scene number. 

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Thankfully, the developer included a manual you can read (Help > Beat Manual), which I highly recommend you use before getting started.

ZDNET buying advice

If you're interested in getting into scriptwriting, I highly recommend you start out with Beat. Not only will it not cost you a penny (unless you are kind enough to offer a donation to the developer), but it's user-friendly and does everything you need as a beginner or intermediate writer for the stage or screen.

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