One of the rare moments where I get a chance to really work on screenplays is whilst traveling. And a couple weeks back I had a pair of long flights to endure. However, I’m not one to take a laptop, let alone on a plane where there’s hardly any room to move. But at the same time, the iPad adds an option of portability. It’s not too small to type on, and while I know people can type on an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc, its not something I would want to do for too long, let along for several pages.
And while I’m not much of an iLife person anyway (don’t have an iPhone, and even the iPad isn’t mine technically), I am impressed with the range of apps that the iPad has, especially when it comes to music and film apps, where there is not only an abundant selection but some gems that I couldn’t even imagine say, 10 years ago. Either way, I have tested out a few screenwriting apps over the recent months, particularly on travels like the one noted here. As a result, I figure it might be worth starting to review them, now that I’ve used them for a while. Another reason I want to go through a bunch, is so I can see what I can improve on when developing a screenwriting app of my own (though considering how little time I have, this may take a while)!
Scripts Pro is a popular app and its gained traction over the years (its also gained cost, from 4.99 to 6.99 to 12.99 which is pushing it a fair bit for this market but still a bit cheaper than some of the other stuff out there). It’s got some great positives to it, but also some painful negatives.
Lets’ get the negatives out of the way first though. Exporting/importing is PAINFUL! And never correct. I imported a script from a custom formatted Word document I made too, still no luck. Same goes when I try to bring it back. Scripts Pro claims to be able to export back to Word. Technically it does do this, but expect formatting, spacing and tabs to be awry and expect odd characters. In fact you might as well save your export until you’re done, and then use the opportunity to fix up the formatting as a chance to review and revise/finalize your script. But being able to easily take this back and forth between PC and iPad? Not happening, unless perhaps you ante up for the likes of Final Draft.
Within the use of the app itself, it has a range of character glitches actually. And putting apostrophes within text seems to create interesting outcomes like how ‘ becomes a italic i sort of character? Another issue is that as a writer, I like to hit “save” and “Save as” a lot, in order to feel reassured perhaps, or keep track of major variations. However, you can’t do that here. And its very scary. I get this screen a lot.
I also cannot change the name of my file in regards to how it appears on the menu, and sometimes a second version of the file appears in the menu screen. Despite this, and getting the scary crash screen above on all variations at times, use a far from logical method keep trying again and the file will open to where you last left it – despite never selecting “save” and the file name selected no longer matching the name of the file name shown once opened!
While there is a backspace and an undo button, there is no “find” option a la CTRL+F to find that word/reference, while the delete button goes one way (the latter is not Scripts Pro’s fault though). This means instead of getting your cursor in and hitting delete to “forward delete” and backspace to deleted back, you can only do the latter. Perhaps this is just me, but I often delete forward and backward depending on my flow, and with a touch screen like the iPad and a program that often preselects by word, you might not always get the cursor on the right letter of the word. So the lack of forward deletes on iPad itself drives me crazy, but I do wish some apps would account for it. I understand that point is mainly my gripe, though from searching around, I’m not the only one. Again, thats more a dig at iOS devices overall rather than this app. But one dig at this app that it could have done something about – is that you cannot highlight a letter within the word midway if you want to spell it a certain way yourself. So you have to respell the whole word anyway!
That said, on to the positives. It’s good for burning through a draft. Character name auto-fills, you can move to any scene via one click, formatting in place for the display version at least (and actually it does an ok job exporting to PDF, though no cover page – despite places saying this was fixed). Auto-correct is generally decent at remembering what you’ve edited prior, so you dont have to keep forcing a word that’s not in its dictionary, such as a location or slang.
On the tab when you bring up the keyboard you can easily change the text from dialogue to action to scene heading, etc and it will adopt a relevant format for you. I like how it highlights the scene headings on the iPad screen and also allows you to move to any scene at any time. If you don’t like a characters name later on, you can easily change it via the character menu (though a find and replace in Word does this better, as it finds it within the dialogue, action, etc, too).
Overall, that is the benefit of this app, convenience. Without apps like this, writing a screenplay while traveling would be tough to pull off. Just don’t rely on it to be your final piece of work, and since you can’t “save” it, make use of the option to email it to yourself or upload to Dropbox after any major changes. However, you will be able to breeze through it. I churned out about 20 pages via my outline, during perhaps 3 or so hours of a flight (despite spending the first hour reformatting my import too), and when you’re on a roll using this app, it becomes good to have. Though my iPad typing might need work, and I developed wrist aches from it, so its probably only useful for bits and pieces when on the go. And don’t bother reformatting the exported version on MS Word until you are doing a final run through.
It’s a good app overall, and I’m making use of it, but there is room for improvement (particularly in compatibility and a CTRL+F element beyond scene headings). Price is realistic, considering how much of a rip off some screenwriting programs can be, when all some of them are is a custom formatted Word Doc with various Macros. For those that want to translate this into a rating, overall I give it an 8 out of 10 (less if you plan on working on it back and forth, more if its just for quick writeups on the go).
Timesaver note: When exporting/opening in Word, it will look pretty hard to fix up. In Word, do a Align Center, and Align Left, and all the weird spacing at the start of each line / between lines will go away. You still have some tidying up to do and may want to do some traditional Word doc tab settings…. but not nearly as much as before. Worked as a great 2nd round read-through though, which I’ll write about soon.