Arc Studio is the affordable Final Draft alternative you’ve been looking for

I have been a writer for almost three decades. According to Grammarly, I average about 5 million words a year between non-fiction and fiction. Not only am I a tech journalist, but I’m also a novelist and screenwriter (currently developing a new sitcom).

A major difference between writing novels and screenplays, be it for television or film, is the formatting of the text. In the realm of screenwriting, formatting is absolutely crucial. If you want someone to look at your script, you better format it properly, otherwise it will be ignored. You could find and download a pre-formatted template for a scenario, but that’s a less than ideal solution, as a template for, say, Google Docs or a traditional word processor won’t provide nearly the flexibility and features you need.

Instead, you should turn to an application that conforms to industry standard practices. Once you start looking for such an application, you will find the de facto standard: Final design, a brilliant piece of software that offers more features than you’ll likely ever use. One thing about Final Draft (especially for those new to screenwriting) is that it’s a bit pricey. The regular price for Final Draft is $249,999, but you’ll very often see the company have specials (like the current price of $169.99).

I used a free application for a while but found it somewhat limiting. That prompted me to download Final Draft’s proof. While I understand why this application is so loved in the industry, I found the layout a bit cumbersome, so I started looking for yet another solution.

That search led me to Arc Studio, which I found to be the perfect blend of features and usability. No, it’s not nearly as accepted in the industry, but it includes both scripts and Final Draft, offers tons of extra features, and costs only a fraction of Final Draft. Now, before I get into this in more detail, I want to make a caveat on the cost. Where the Final Draft price is a one-time fee, Arc Studio is an annual subscription. And while Arc Studio offers a free plan, it’s limited to the web version only (so you don’t get the desktop app), PDF exports are watermarked, and you’re limited to 2 scripts.

The paid Arc Studio plans are $69 per year for the Essentials plan and $99 per year for the Pro plan. Read more about the plans on the price matrix† In the long run, Final Draft is actually cheaper as it is a one time fee. But for those just starting their screenwriting journey, Arc Studio is a great alternative.

What I like about Arc Studio

There’s a lot to like about Arc Studio. For those who like a quick-to-consume list, here you go:

  • Beautiful interface
  • Shallow learning curve
  • Auto-complete for things like Scenes, Action, Characters, Brackets, Dialog, Shot, Transition, and more.
  • Comments
  • Easy navigation through script through scenes.
  • Version control (via drafts)
  • Stash (for collecting discarded text fragments)
  • Export to PDF, Fountain or Final Draft
  • Projects, scripts and dashboard views
  • Season Review and Bible (both are currently in beta)
  • Beatboard makes it easy to sketch
  • The web interface allows you to write anywhere
  • Much easier learning curve than Final Draft
  • Collaboration Features

What I don’t like about Arc Studio

As for the misses, there really isn’t much and can be reduced to three things:

  • Subscription based cost structure
  • Not nearly as widely accepted in the industry as Final Draft
  • The free version is only web-based with only two scripts

The benefits of using Arc Studio

It’s all about working efficiently and I do everything I can to find ways to always improve my workflow. Therefore, I don’t want to worry about manually formatting documents that rely on proper layout (Figure 1

A snippet of the Arc Studio interface.

Thanks to Arc Studio, the first page of my pilot episode was formatted exactly how I wanted it.

Image: Jack Wallen

This is one of the many reasons why I find Arc Studio to be the ideal solution, especially for those just getting into the world of screenwriting. Arc Studio makes it dead simple to properly format your work. Type a character name in capital letters and Arc Studio will format it automatically. Hit enter and you’ll get to the dialog format. If you type parentheses first, Arc Studio will catch it and format it exactly as needed.

And that’s roughly how the workflow goes. Arc Studio does a really great job of holding your hand while you write. And should it miss something, you can click on the element icon on the left edge of the window and select exactly what that part is (Figure 2

The Arc Studio element picker.

Formatting structure is very simple per element.

Image: Jack Wallen

This automatic formatting feature does most of the formatting work for you. I’ve written page after page and never had to manually format a single item simply because Arc Studio picked everything up for me.

The interface

Interface-wise, I found Arc Studio to be exponentially easier to use than Final Draft. No, it doesn’t offer the feature set of Final Draft by any means, but Arc Studio has an ideal feature-to-usability ratio. Almost anyone can get into this application and get started without much learning curve. And with a very modern looking UI, it should be as pleasant to look at as it is functional. Compared to almost all other scripting tools on the market, I find Arc Studio has the best designed interface that is as easy on the eyes as it is efficient to work with. And with the addition of a Kanban-esque storyboard (found in the Project section), Arc Studio makes it incredibly easy to sketch an entire season of your series.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, Arc Studio is a great alternative to Final Draft. Is this everything you’ve been looking for? Maybe or maybe not. That depends on whether you want to work with a piece of software that offers just the right amount of features to help you get your work done or whether you want something that grows with you as you learn. If a subscription price, a shallow learning curve, and just the right amount of features are what you’re looking for, Arc Studio is a great choice, otherwise go with Final Draft. Either way, you’ll find that both tools do a great job of formatting your script correctly and helping you stay organized.

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