Screenwriting on the iPad: Scripts Pro hands-on

Can the iPad be used as a screenwriter's best friend? We find out with a field test of Scripts Pro.

Screenwriting from an iPad? Check. Suitable to replace a laptop? Well, we're a step closer. Scott Stein/CNET

A handful of weeks ago, before I bought an iPad, I wondered whether Apple's slim little go-anywhere tablet could help redefine the casual editing process for writers everywhere .

Well, I've been a little disappointed on that front.

I was dreaming of the iPad becoming a way of editing a paperless "printout" in a far better manner than either a laptop or physically printed pages could normally allow. Yes, I was an idealist. Perhaps foolish. I was excited about news of an upcoming iPad app from veteran screenwriting-software maker Final Draft. To date, it hasn't materialized.

I read scripts via PDF readers such as GoodReader, but as far as writing and editing go, I've had problems. A noble effort by some clever outsiders created a script-formatting template for use with Apple's Pages, but it's essentially a preformatted document you can erase and write over.

Scripts Pro, which became available in the App Store a week ago, is technically what I was looking for.

This isn't a new app: it's been out for the iPhone/iPod Touch for a while. Scripts Pro is a simplified script-writing app that accepts both Final Draft .FDX and .CELTX documents or .TXT files, and can create new documents in any of those formats as well. The latest update turned the app into a hybrid with iPad-optimized graphics and layout, all for a downright cheap price of $5.99. The real question is, how does the app stack up as a tool?

Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag. The good news is that Scripts Pro can import Final Draft and Celtx scripts, although you'll need to use the latest version of Final Draft to be able to create the .FDX file format it accepts. Scripts can be imported directly over local wireless--you can enter a generated URL into your laptop's browser and upload documents via Wi-Fi, although the upload screen still says "upload to iPhone" instead of iPad. An easier solution I found is to import directly from e--mail attachments. Originally, imported scripts were a mess of misappropriated character and dialogue formatting, but an update fixed most errors. Still, the app can't do full-screen previews of large scripts without crashing, although the developer promises a quick fix for that, too.

Scripts can imported over local Wi-Fi or via e-mail attachment. Scott Stein/CNET

Since exporting scripts back out of Scripts Pro (done via e-mail or, oddly, through iTunes) leaves you with a document that ends up stripped of its original cover page, headers, footers, and color-coded script editing marks, it's not a great tool for professional screenwriters on a deadline. It is, however, a nice tool for quick-writing a scene or two on the go, or for casually browsing short scripts on the go. Check out the screens for a few examples of the interface (and forgive the snippets of dialogue; they're my own works-in-progress).

Scripts Pro in landscape mode: lots of keyboard, not a lot of script (using a Bluetooth keyboard removes the onscreen keyboard, of course). Scott Stein/CNET

Like Final Draft, hitting Tab on either the onscreen or Bluetooth/dock-connected keyboard will automatically switch among character, dialogue, and descriptive action elements. The app also keeps track of characters and offers a pull-down menu of scenes, and will autocomplete character and scene headers, too; but when a name is suggested, you unintuitively have to tap the onscreen correction to approve. This makes less sense on a large-screened tablet than on a tiny iPhone screen.

At $5.99, though, it's hard to complain. After all, my Final Draft 8 update cost $80, and the full version goes for $180. If Scripts Pro can give a fraction of that productivity with a touch more reliability, it's earned a cost that's half the going price of an NYC movie ticket. For now, I'll stick with my laptop for writing. One or two more updates, however, could change my mind.

 

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