Every great project starts with a script. Whether you’re an aspiring screenwriter sitting down to write the next Citizen Kane, or if you work in commercial video production and are looking to script out several dozen broadcast spots. In many ways the script is the most pivotal piece to any project big or small before you have to get into deciding what the best project management collaboration tools to use. And while there are a lot of creative decisions that go into how you might want to start your script writing process, there is one practical one which you’ll have to face early on. What free screenwriting software are you going to use?
Luckily, these days there are plenty of great options out there. And even better yet, there are many options that are either completely free, or at least offer a free version that can let you test out different software before you decide on making a larger financial investment.
So, let’s check out some of the best free screenwriting software currently available for all your film and video production needs.
A software that has been rising in popularity over the years, WriterDuet is one of the best options out there for real time collaboration and for cross-platform sharing. However, it is worth noting that this is a free to try option that ultimately will cost you a monthly subscription for its full functionality after you’ve exhausted your three free scripts.
Speaking personally, I really like WriterDuet for its layout and simplicity. It’s one of the few on our list that really feels like you can download, start up and begin working right away. It also has a familiar design where you can find just about all the basic things that you should need instantly. I like the help function and collaborator controls. One downside is that it doesn’t offer too many auxiliary features for production management, so it might be best to partner with some extra resources like these free film production budget templates.
Again though, it’s only free to try out. WriterDuet requires a subscription to use regularly. It’s probably best for those who are looking to work on scripts pretty regularly, but maybe don’t want to dive in too deep with a more comprehensive pre production focused platform like Final Draft or Trebly.
Trial Version: 3 Scripts
Pro Price: $11.99 a month
2. Final Draft
Since we’re including both free softwares and those with free demos, we have to start with Final Draft if at least to just acknowledge where the film industry has been and how it has developed. Final Draft has long been an industry standard and has shaped much of its newer competition. However, while it’s certainly a great and familiar option, its price tag and the availability of other, more experimental, and more affordable options means it might be worth checking out – but ultimately one you might want to shop around first before making the investment.
As you can see in the “getting started” video above, Final Draft is very clean and direct when you start up. If you’re just starting out in screenwriting, I’d actually recommend at least downloading the trial to get acclimated with the platform as it definitely helped inform how the rest of the competition has developed.
Free Trial: 30 days
One of my favorite options out there is perhaps the purest in the sense of a true, straightforward screenwriting platform. Unlike many of the more advanced options that we’ll get to later, Trebly is a no-frills, no-bells and whistles software that is actually quite perfect in its simplicity. There are no paid upgrades to try to sell you either, so if you’d like to dive into screenwriting in its purest form, Trebly is a great software to check out.
If you do find yourself enjoying Trebly and its formatting, you could even use it as a home base for other non-script needs like writing a winning director’s treatment to help get your projects off the ground.
It’s important to note that Trebly is built for Windows and Linux, so if you use Mac you might want to look elsewhere. I’d also argue that the easy-to-use import and export functions are crucially helpful for working run-and-gun and needing to make updates on the fly, and from different computers or platforms.
On the opposite side of slimmed down, Celtx is one of the more advanced softwares out there and, after Final Draft, is one of the most widely used in the film and video industry. However, while it does offer a free version, it’s really built to provide filmmakers with more of their paid upgrade options for scheduling, budgeting and call sheets. That being said, it is definitely one of the more advanced screenwriting platforms out there and a great option to try out and get comfortable with before settling in to it being your main software.
While not exclusive to Celtx, I do like how you do have plenty of script format for stage plays, audio plays and other theatrical productions. The master catalog function that you can see in the video above is also a great homebase of sorts to help you keep everything tagged, detailed and together.
Limited Plan: Free
Pro Trial: 30 days
Pro Price: $90 a year
Another barebones offering that is completely free, the web-based platform youmescript.com is about as straightforward as they come. All you do is visit the domain and voila! – you’re writing your script! This isn’t the option if you’re looking for any major features, however I’ve actually found a good deal of comfort in its simplicity. You simply pull it up and get to work.
It’s also another great candidate to use as your de-facto film and script word processor to help you come up with everything like a treatment to a creative brief for your video projects.
Speaking personally, as someone who started out without wanting to spend any money on softwares, I did my first few scripts in just Microsoft Word. And when looking back, YouMeScript would be a nice first transition from painstakingly putting in all the spacing and indentations for formatting. It’s a great step up and also completely free.
A newer option to consider these days, Highland comes from the famous scribe John August (who himself is a great resource for screenwriting online). With their latest version Highland 2, which offers a free demo version, August’s software is designed with seasoned screenwriters in mind and has plenty of cool features like automatic formatting, a “gender analysis tool” and a “scratchpad” for taking and sharing of notes.
I’d argue that Highland 2 is a great option to consider from the recommendation from John August himself. As you can see in the video above, August is very passionate about screenwriting and actually has tons of great videos that go more in-depth into how one can harness the power of this software for all their screenwriting needs.
Basic Features: Free
Pro Price: $49.99
While temporarily offered for free during the time of COVID-19, Arc Studio Pro is a solid platform that is certainly worth checking out while available (or even after that). It’s great for a wide variety of projects from features, to episodic television, to commercial video production and has plenty of additional features like note cards and drag-and-drop functionality.
Out of all the softwares on our list, Arc Studio Pro might also be one of the most ambitious in terms of workflow optimization. It’s certainly designed to help you speed things up for when you’re really in the zone with auto-formatting and auto-completion for typing. For professional screenwriting, it can really speed things up.
Trial Version: Free
Price: Currently Free
8. Fade In
Another higher end option that we’ll recommend simply because they do offer a free demo version, Fade In is really best utilized once you pay for the full version. It’s definitely worth checking out though as it was designed by veteran screenwriter Craig Mazin (best known for HBO’s Chernobyl) to be classically designed and workflow friendly for all manner of projects and across all platforms.
I really like how Fade In starts up when you first install and open the program. You literally get a blank piece of paper set out in front of you. The amount of formatting or customization is up to you. So while you can definitely go more advanced and make it look like Final Draft or the like, you also get that true feeling of starting on a project fresh with unlimited possibility.
There’s also some great revision tracking functions that are helpful when you need to have lots of feedback and make changes as your project progresses. This can actually save you from getting confused and ending up going to production with outdated versions of the scripts – with Fade in that won’t happen. It is a bit pricey though, so if you should always also consider the free and cheaper alternatives that you can pair with freebies which you can find online like this free call sheet template.
Trial Version: Free, but limited functions
Finally, we’ll end on one of the best free softwares out there that is truly meant to provide screenwriting for the people: Kit Scenarist. Built as an open source platform, Kit Scenarist explores a new way for aspiring filmmakers and video professionals alike to work with several different script formats like FDX, DOCX and PDF. Kit Scenarist is still new though and in its Beta Test program, so stay tuned to it as it continues to develop and innovate.
It’s a bit harder to find as many reviews of Kit Scenarist because it is so new and so experimental in nature. Working in the industry, I’ve found that many screenwriters use some of the more familiar names higher up on this list, but I do like the possibilities presented by Kit Scenarist, such as the bulletin board function for researching and planning out your ideas with virtual index cards. It stands out as a great feature that demonstrates just how forward-thinking the software can be. As I would with the other options on this list, I’d encourage you to at least check it out for yourself as it is free without cloud services.
Cloud Services: $4.99 a month
There’s also plenty of options out there that we weren’t able to include on our list. If you’d like a few different choices, as well as some more information on some of the more well known names above, check out this video below by James K Martin where he breaks down some of his personal favorites for beginners and pros alike.
Hopefully this list will help you find the right platform for your writing style and sensibilities. These are some of the best software options out there and I’d highly recommend checking out all of them if at least to see which versions line up best with your specific projects needs. Screenwriting can be a challenging process, but with the right mindset – and a solid free screenwriting software at your disposal – you can make some truly great projects come to life.