Movie Outline Screenwriting Software: A Review
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow hubbers, I’m proud to admit that I’ve just finished my first screenplay. My third, actually, but with the others I gave up at around page 40 and dumped them in the ‘What was I thinking? ’ folder back in the darkest recesses of my laptop. So what made the difference this time? I can honestly say (and they’re not paying me) that it was Movie Outline, a new-on-the-block screenwriting software system that helps you to build your screenplay step by step.
How is Movie Outline different?
The other screenwriting software systems format your work, so that your dialogue and direction come out in the standard industry format which ensures the felling of a good number trees. Movie Outline does this too, but it does so much more besides.
Movie Outline helps you to build in-depth profiles of your characters, from a basic bio to the character arc (the journey they make through your screenplay) to a list of revealing questions about your character’s past, present, their beliefs and opinions, likes, dislikes and self-image. You probably won’t want to go through all this with the barman who gets to see that your protagonist’s Martini is shaken, not stirred, but the process of considering your character’s upbringing, their education, what drives them and what scares the hell out of them is, in itself, extremely revealing. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I uncovered a huge plot point just by thinking about something one of my characters was ashamed of.
Movie Outline helps you to build your screenplay step by step, as opposed to scene by scene. In Outline mode you decide what happens when, and can easily add, move or delete steps as you require. This means that once you’ve got a rough outline and some fleshed-out characters, you can start writing your screenplay in small, manageable chunks, each of which you give a title. The software allows you to add whichever characters appear in each step, and there are four questions to answer, essentially checking that your character has a useful role to fulfil in that scene. You don’t have to use this, of course, but it’s like having your own personal mentor guiding you through the thought process. As your screenplay grows, you can see at a touch of a button which character appears in which steps, making life easier if you want to change your Swedish blonde assassin into a sultry French temptress.
While you write your script in steps, Movie Outline cleverly assembles it into one script. When you click on the Full Script button you’ll see your entire screenplay, neatly laid out for you. It’s here that you’ll find your Page Count and be able to chart your progress. If I have one gripe it’s that until I discovered this, I couldn’t find Page Count in any of the instructions or help guide (as if it doesn’t matter?!), so although I knew I had 48 steps, I had no idea if I’d achieved my goal of 100 pages or was either way above or below.
Movie Outline gives you a choice of five structural templates to work on: the default is the classic three act structure, but there’s also a five act stage play, a one hour TV drama, a half hour TV sitcom and the ‘Hero’s Journey’, which is broken into twelve stages. When using Power View you can see how your screenplay fits into any of these given structures, and there’s advice on what to aim for in any of your acts and turning points.
The software comes with a reference library of twelve films of different genres, with a step by step outline and analysis of each one, as a structural guide for your own work. Once you’ve chosen the most similar film to your own, using Power View you can obtain a direct comparison with your own movie – the three act breakdown, mid-point, turning points and the denouement. You might not want to follow your comparison too slavishly, but it’s an interesting analysis of whether you’ve hit the right beats in your own work.
Traditionally, writers used index cards as a way of putting all their scenes together, and this is replicated in Movie Outline. You can see each step with your own blurb from the Outline Mode, all laid out on the screen. Additionally, in Full Script Mode you can see each scene, broken down. You can move your cards and you can select to colour code them in the structure colours. Interestingly, I haven’t used the card mode at all – moving steps around is easy in itself – but for those who are used to working in this way, it’s a powerful tool.
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Notes and Story Tasks
Two different ways of keeping a ‘to do’ list going. I found I used them after I’d left my script for a while and then got a flash of inspiration while doing the washing up. In Notes you can write what you like for each step, while in Story Tasks, you create different tasks, give each a name, and then have plenty of space for the details.
I had a go on this before writing this review, and, fun as it may be, it’s probably more of a luxury than a necessary working tool. It’s a graph which allows you to gauge the pace and emotional rollercoaster of your film – you attribute a number each step for a certain FeelFactor, be it action, comedy, romance, mystery, etc., and can then compare your graph with your reference film – are you hitting the right beats? How is the pace of your movie? Will your audience be engaged?
This, on the other hand, is a fantastic tool. You can isolate each character and read their dialogue, to ensure that their voice is consistent. You can even go further and refine it to only when they’re talking to a particular character, or characters. It just makes life so much easier than scrolling through a hundred odd pages to find what someone has said. So much about a character is revealed by the way they say things, and the big danger, especially with lesser characters, is to make them all sound the same.
Importing Other Files
I’d been dreading importing my other files into the system, convinced that it would be an annoying and complicated process which would probably result in failure. But to my amazement it was incredibly easy – I’d had other scripts saved in PDF files on Adobe and with a click of the button they moved over – it took seconds and Movie Outline even broke them up into steps for me. It’s such an intelligent system. Yes, I do have some tidying up to do with the formatting but that’s no problem – I know my documents are all there and it will be a pleasure (I hope!) to go through them again. This means, crucially, that it’s easy to convert from one of the other movie software systems – and Movie Outline is adapted to suit both Windows and Mac.
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Ultimately there’s a very slim chance of my screenplay ever getting anywhere beyond anyone’s slush pile, but I’m happy that, at the very least, thanks to this software, I’ve been encouraged and sufficiently supported to see it through to completion. Seasoned writers might not need all the help it offers, but for the rest of us, I’d say it was invaluable.
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