If you want your production to rise above the competition, then a solid script and well-thought out storyboard should be an integral part of your production arsenal.
Thanks to modern computing power, you no longer have to rely on pen and paper for crafting these tools of the trade. In this buyer's guide, we'll explore some software options available for scriptwriting and storyboard creation. We'll also look at ways you can harness program features to improve the quality of your production.
Stand-in or Stand Alone
There are two different types of script editors you can choose from. First are the stand-alone programs, such as Final Draft, Movie Magic, and Celtx. These are self-contained with everything (supposedly) that you need to let your creativity take flight. The second type of script editor is actually template software for your word processor. When you install it, your word processor then functions (at least in certain respects) as screenwriting software. Examples of this kind of product would include ScriptWright and Script Wizard. If you absolutely love working within Microsoft Word, then this might be the tool for you. Otherwise you can find stand-alone programs for a similar price with more features.
In the Beginning
Whether it's for a corporate training video or a feature film, every script needs a road map to keep it on track. An easy way to construct this guide is by creating an outline. An outline allows you to plot out the major points of the video, as well as effectively evaluate your "big picture" concept. Don't leave home without it. That's where your software should begin to flex its muscles. A good program will have what's sometimes called the index card feature: the ability to create the initial outline, make notes about each point, and then rearrange to your heart's content. This feature can be found in programs such as Movie Magic and Hollyword.
Part of the outline process for dramatic scripts is determining who your characters are - their motivations, back story, personalities, etc. Keeping your characters consistent is crucial for a good story. That's why some of the software programs, such as SceneWriter Pro, provide special "character cards". These provide a place to jot down the relevant information about a particular person in your script and then easily refer back to it during the writing process. Another program, Letterbox, allows you to track each character's lines independently so you can make sure they are staying true to type.
Filling in the Blanks
Moving beyond the outline is when the process of scriptwriting really becomes fun. The vague ideas in your head begin to gain a life of their own as you write. To keep your creativity from getting carried away, it's important to work with an intended audience in mind. Are you writing for young men in their 20s or baby boomers in their 50s? Each group merits a different approach, which must be carefully adhered to as you flesh out the script.
Keeping your writing focused is challenging and can stretch your creativity. If you get stuck on a plot point, take a look at an "idea dictionary"! Hollywood Screenplay has a handy tool called Storybase that provides hundreds of plot devices, as well as story twists and turns to fuel your imagination. Another scriptwriting reference tool, The Writer's Software Companion, provides writing diagnostics, a dictionary of literary terms, story advice and even a name dictionary.
If you prefer interaction with other screenwriters to help generate ideas, then check out Scriptbuddy.com. This software is a web-based screenwriting tool. It only costs a few dollars per month, and it allows you access to a community of writers who can offer advice and input for your screenplay. The company says its members number in the thousands, and since the price is so low, it might be worth a peek.
The Art of the Keyboard
The "look" of your script is dependent upon what type of production it's intended for. Presenting an improperly formatted script can brand you as an amateur. Thankfully, this is made easy by most of the available programs. Celtx, a popular screenwriting program for indie producers, provides six industry-standard text editors, including formats for screenplays, AV scripts and even comic books. Best of all is the price: free. If you're looking for an extremely full-featured program, take a glance at this one.
A program's ease of formatting and use is important, but even more so is the way it handles revisions. There's nothing worse than realizing you can't go back to an earlier script version when needed... and you don't remember what your changes were! Final Draft allows you to clearly delineate between revisions, as well as easily compare one with another so you can see how they differ. One way to keep track of various revisions on your own is to save each revision as a new file, with the date and time as a part of the file name. Revision tools are just the tip of the iceberg for Final Draft. This program is a robust, full-featured option, offering a wide range of useful tools to help you create your script. Many scriptwriters both inside and outside of Hollywood make use of it. No matter what script writing program you end up choosing, make sure it has the ability to open Final Draft files.
Your Very Own Cartoon
Scripts contain the ideas, storyboards the visuals. A storyboard is a vital tool for making sure the execution of the perfect script doesn't fall flat on its face. It allows you to plan character movement and camera placement, as well as protects you from continuity errors and the unintended jumpcut.
A storyboard is especially vital on a low-budget set. You don't have the luxury of extra time or money to fix a botched shot. Also, storyboarding will allow you to make maximum use of rented equipment. By glancing at your boards, you'll be able to easily identify which shots to use the jib or steadicam on and can then knock them out all at once. It's also a great communication tool. When you verbally describe a shot to your crew, they still must create their own mental picture. When you show them the shot via a storyboard, they're able to see what you see in your head. The storyboard empowers your crew to effectively bring about your visual ideas.
Become an Artist
So what are your software options for storyboarding? On the free side is Atomic Learning's Storyboard Pro, a very simple piece of freeware that will accomplish the job without any bells or whistles. If you want more features, but don't want to pay more, Celtx has storyboarding integrated into its software package.
For 3D previsualization (previz), look at Storyboard Lite and FrameForge 3D. Both offer 3D models and sets to use in your frames. FrameForge has an upgrade allowing you to visualize even stereoscopic 3D productions. Another option that's a bit newer on the market is Google's SketchUp. It's pricey, but has the ability to easily integrate with Google Earth, so you can import satellite imagery.
It's Up to You
Screenwriting software and storyboarding programs are useful tools, but will only be of value to you if you understand the basics of production and storytelling. Before you make a big software purchase, learn, and then learn some more. You can then harness the power of the software to accomplish something really great. It all comes back to another quote from George Burns: "Be quick to learn and wise to know."
Learn to Make a Storyboard
If you are interested in learning how to create a storyboard, check out our associated story The Perfect Plan.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Scriptwriting and Storyboarding Software Buyer's Guide
Wynn Duncan is a freelance video producer and writer.