Writing Tools

How to Track Changes & Collaborate

by Peter Basch

A genuinely useful feature these programs offer is version control. If you are collaborating, you can keep track of each partner's additions and deletions. Microsoft Word does this well with a feature called "track changes", intended originally for the legal profession. Both Final Draft and Move Magic Screenwriter have revision mark features, which work differently than Microsoft Word's. And if you have worked in law firms (as many writers have), the difference may be confusing. The words "revision mark" in Word, as well as in Delta View or Compare Rite, programs with which you may be familiar if you've worked for a lawyer, means a strikethrough of deleted text, and an underline for added text. That way the lawyer can look at one document and see all additions and deletions. In Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft, however, deleted text is just… gone. A "revision mark" means an asterisk (or other character, if you so desire, but asterisks are standard) which is printed in the right margin. When you add text, you have the option of that text appearing in a different color, and, in Final Draft, of having some other formatting, such as underlining, added on. Good idea, since black and white printing is so much cheaper. Again, an asterisk will appear in the margin. The asterisks make a lot of sense, because you can riffle through the script and find revisions quickly.

I don't know why deletions are not visible. If you want to find out what was taken out, you have to look at the corresponding page of the earlier version and just read it. I can only guess, but I suspect that this is because that is the industry standard which grew up on typewriters. And nobody would bother striking through deletions. They would just type a new page. And, as hidebound as the legal profession is, it seems that Showbiz is stuck in its little ways also.

Another sample of how this works, in Final Draft, you pull down the Production menu and select Revision Mode. Done. From then on, additions can be marked by color, underlining, underscoring, and a mark in the margin. Very simple.In Movie Magic Screenwriter, you pull down the Production menu, select Auto-Revision, and you can toggle Marks and Color on or off. So additional text can be in color, deleted text will be gone, and a revision mark will appear in the margin.

Ideally, all the writers working together will train together, use the same software, and be equally adept at using it. Realistically, one will be the techie, and the other will be the temperamental artiste unable to find the "on" switch.

There is no end to the collaborative tools available to those unwilling or unable to sit in the same room. There are virtual whiteboards, Microsoft NetMeeting, instant messaging programs, and many others. Movie Magic Screenwriter has a built-in feature called iPartnerâ„¢ that lets you collaborate. You will have to enter your partner's IP address. iPartner will tell you what it is, so have your partner check under Tools/iPartner, they can tell you their IP address, you enter it, and off you go. Final Draft has a similar option called Collabowriter, also under the Tools menu. It works similarly. If just seeing the words "IP Address" makes you dizzy and short of breath, just forget about it. Use one of those new "telephones" instead.

Both Movie Magic and Final Draft come loaded with templates for many shows, so you can get a running start on the formatting. But there is no substitute for studying actual scripts from the show. Make sure that what the software manufacturer sold you matches the script in front of you! For formatting purposes, you should use a ruler to measure the margins, the line spacing of each "element" (namely, character name, dialogue, action, parenthetical, scene heading, etc.), the info on the title page, and every other physical aspect of the script.

Remember, it isn't Final Draft's spec, it's yours. If their built-in template doesn't seem to match the paper script in front of you, get out that manual (you haven't lost it already, have you?) and learn how to customize the formatting of the various elements of the script. And confirm that, so that when the script is printed, it matches the formatting of your samples.

Another thing to remember is that printers may have an unprintable area along the margins, and you may have to adjust your margins accordingly to make it look exactly like your samples.