This is going to sound like a lazy question. What’s the easiest way to handle all of the tabs, centering, capitalization, and formatting required in a screenplay? I know there are a lot of programs out there that supposedly "handle" all of this for the screenwriter, but there had to have been an easier procedure twenty years ago when these programs weren’t available.
Yes. It was called a typist, a script services department, or your kind-hearted mother. Because the fact is, formatting scripts has historically been a nightmare. Even computers didn’t help much. Back when I started in 1993, the best way to format a script was through homemade style sheets in Microsoft Word. Every time I finished a script, I would need to go through page by page and check to make sure dialogue wasn’t dangling off pages. It was a giant pain in the ass.
Today we live in a Golden Age for script formatting. Since GO, I’ve been using Final Draft for the Macintosh, which not only handles all the formatting details, but also keeps track of scene numbering and production changes should you be so lucky as to need them. Like all programs, it has its quirks – it can be too helpful at times – but most of my friends seem to be using Final Draft as well.
Although I haven’t experimented with them as much, Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000 and Scriptware have their fans. All three programs are available for both Mac and PC, and all three have downloadable demos. Definitely try them out.
To answer your natural follow-up questions: why are these programs so expensive, and why do they have copy-protection? Probably because there’s a limited market of screenwriters (thus the high price), and being largely broke, screenwriters tend to pirate a lot (thus the copy protection). I’m not saying it’s right or true or fair, but I understand why it is this way.