Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0 makes strong play for the box office

Batman vs. the Joker. Alien vs. Predator. Final Draft vs. Movie Magic. Hollywood loves its rivalries.

Well, it may be a Final Draft world, but Write Brothers’ Movie Magic Screenwriter makes a strong play for the top box office spot by adding significant outlining and navigation capabilities to what was already one of the most stable and full-featured professional screenwriting software tools available.

Rewrites are the bread and butter of the professional screenwriter. Revision marks, A-B pages, and colored pages are all staples of the production rewriting process, and are all handled painlessly within Movie Magic Screenwriter. And if you don’t understand the how and why of the production revision cycle, Movie Magic Screenwriter’s rock-solid documentation will teach you.

In addition to a paper manual, electronic manual, and a handful of sample documents, Screenwriter provides a 35-page Production Bible PDF to guide you through the process.

Though Movie Magic Screenwriter has long been respected as a capable industry performer, even winning its creators an Academy Technical Achievement Award, let’s just say it hasn’t won any beauty pageants.

Version 6.0 finally gives the program the leading lady looks past users found lacking by adding a multipurpose navigational and outlining tool to the left of your written page, extensive color-coding outlining options, a custom-designed beefy Courier font perfect for screen and print, and easy-to-use slider controls to grow and shrink your outline views. Rest assured, Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0’s aesthetic additions all serve higher functional purposes.

Installation and activation were simple. Updates and patches installed automatically. Within a few minutes of opening the box, I was well into page one of my epic. Movie Magic Screenwriter’s use of the Tab and Enter keys, along with the mouse and pop-up menus, make it easy for a newbie to hit the ground typing.

The New From Template command lets you select from dozens of pre-existing feature film, novel, or television script formats, ensuring that your sample Simpsons script would make even Matt Groening proud. (OK, it can’t make your jokes funny, but it will take care of the formatting.)

Movie Magic Screenwriter’s abundant features includes such bells and whistles as dual dialogue support, the ability to “cheat” the length of your script by adjusting spacing, and online collaboration capabilities.

Version 6.0’s Zoom Screen Text option offers a new Fit Width option that grows and shrinks onscreen font size automatically, within user-defined thresholds, to fit your display window. So now there’s no more wasting valuable display real estate on your screenplay’s empty right margin.

Paranoid about inadvertently deleting the best line of dialogue you’ve ever written? Screenwriter’s new Retain Previous Versions feature protects you from yourself by letting you hang onto as many versions of your opus as you want.

Integrated outlining features are fully customizable, so you can work within whatever story structure paradigm your personal screenwriting guru preaches.

Though Screenwriter 6.0 cannot import from or export to Final Draft format, import from Rich Text Format (RTF) is easy and requires little cleanup. It also exports to RTF, PDF, and the Screenplay Exchange (.sex) scheduling formats.

Among Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0’s most touted new features is the NaviDoc panel, a navigation interface that appears to the left of your script pages. As its name implies, the panel lets you instantly navigate your document with a click of your mouse. In the NaviDoc, you can select from four navigational panels.

The Scenes panel allows you to navigate or sort by slug line. Use the Bookmarks panel to bounce to and from predefined points in your script. But the Notes and Outline panels are where NaviDoc really earns its keep.When writing and rewriting, I find the ability to tag my screenplay with quotes, jokes, and notes to myself invaluable. Movie Magic Screenwriter’s Notes panel is much less cumbersome than competitor Final Draft 7’s pop-up ScriptNotes.

And printing a hard copy of Screenwriter’s script notes was a breeze, thanks to the comprehensive set of options in the Print Job window. Much to my surprise, it even let me print my script duplexed, with the pertinent script notes appearing on the facing blank page.

To get the most out of Screenwriter 6.0’s new outlining features, plan on a bit of a learning curve. Complete customizability and 30 levels of hierarchy? Yikes. My first outing with Outline Elements left me feeling a bit intimidated.

Once I figured it out, though, Screenwriter 6.0’s flexible outlining tools easily bent to the eight-sequence story paradigm I find helpful. Write Brothers is currently developing Flash tutorials to help users reap the full benefit of the program’s outlining features.

For the less adventurous, Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0 still offers its more traditional index card-based outlining interface. But be forewarned that you cannot edit index cards if you’re using outline elements.

Another handy bonus: when you buy Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0, you get a license that allows you to install the application on three different machines. Whether you’re at your tower at work, your mini at home, or your MacBook on the road, you’re always equipped when the muse seizes you.

And thanks to Write Brothers’ new-to-this-version approach to copy protection, you’ll never lose your activation due to a dead drive or dropped laptop. Just go ahead and activate your new installation. At any given time, only the three most recent activations will work.

Still not sure if Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0’s new features merit an upgrade? Write Brothers offers a fully functional test drive of the software, but you’ll have to type fast, as it expires after 48 hours.

Macworld’s buying advice

Pros will welcome Movie Magic Screenwriter’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feature set and fully customizable outlining abilities, but Writers Guild wannabes may want to think twice before they cough up cash for features they’ll never use.

Of course, a strong educational discount and a bargain competitive upgrade may make this full-featured, production-proven program tough to pass up, even for those on a budget.

[Tim Haddock is a writer and corporate communications professional living in Vermont.]

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