Final Draft Reader: Simple, Easy and Free

Last month, I reviewed Final Draft Writer for iPad. I thought it was a great application that was creating a new standard for Hollywood screenwriters on the go — it lets them write screenplays on the go in an app almost exactly like what they already used on their computers, while still getting an experience optimized for the unique interface of the iPad. If you want to write screenplays, that’s the app for you.

Final Draft Reader (FDR) is different. Before Final Draft Writer was released, FDR was a pricey app that only let you do two things: read screenplays written in the Final Draft file format and add notes to them. Now, it’s a universal app for both the iPad and iPhone (and it’s optimized for the iPhone 5, too), the bugs have been ironed out and the price has been dropped down to a cool five-finger discount. And if all you need is a competent script reader on the go, the value here is tremendous.

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A Familiar Interface

There isn’t a lot here that looks too different from what I saw in Final Draft Writer in September. The app has a very similar user interface, but makes a couple of changes for easy readability. A scroll bar sits on the bottom of the screen to indicate how far into the script you are. Swiping to the left or right flips a page, similar to the animations in iBooks or Instapaper.

Pages flip similarly to the way they do in iBooks. Too bad there's no sepia mode!

Pages flip similarly to the way they do in iBooks. Too bad there’s no sepia mode!

Each page is hole punched three times, presumably to match the way a script looks in Hollywood when producers and directors read through them. I’m not sure I see the value in that sort of skeumorphic design, but if you’re in that industry, you might appreciate it. It’s a moot point regardless though, since it doesn’t get directly in the way of the interface.

The menu here look just like it does in Final Draft Writer.

The menu here look just like it does in Final Draft Writer.

You can print directly from the app, and the app integrates with Dropbox — again, in the same way that Final Draft Writer does — and with the same issues. It means you have to open the Dropbox app to open files, but can export files to Dropbox from the app itself. It’s an inconvenience to be sure, but it makes a little bit more sense here. FDR is a reader more than it is anything else, so it fits into a workflow a little differently.

My Workflow

If I’m going to write a screenplay, I don’t start on the iPad. I start it on a desktop or a laptop, and then I store it on Dropbox for easy access wherever I am. Maybe I’m on a plane and I want to work on it on my iPad, and that’s what Final Draft Writer is for. And then, when I’m finished the first draft, out comes FDR.

With FDR, I read through the script. I add notes if I need to, but I don’t edit it. I simply can’t. That limitation forces me to focus on the reading, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means that I can’t be too obsessive, and instead just read the thing to make sure it works. Sometimes, that’s valuable. And for some readers in the industry, that’s just about all they do. This will be perfect for them.

Adding or viewing notes is as simple as tapping the screen.

Adding or viewing notes is as simple as tapping the screen.

I’ll add notes as I go, and when it’s time to start writing again, I refer to the notes as I go through and do my edit — again, likely on a computer. The iPad is there as a reference guide. I don’t necessarily want to replace my original file with my annotated file. I just want to have a copy of my first draft nearby, and this is a really easy way to get that without printing 120 pages.

It’s Easy To Use

FDR is simple. Tap and hold to add a Scriptnote. Tap a Scriptnote to read it. Character highlighting is done by tapping the wrench symbol in the top right and selecting it, and it works exactly how you’d imagine. Each character gets their own colour of highlighter. If you use features like that, this is going to be perfect for you.

Highlighting your characters can be really useful.

Highlighting your characters can be really useful.

The app also supports not shooting scripts. Searching in any script and using the wireless printing capabilities is a piece of cake. This is an app nobody is going to need a manual to use, and that’s a good thing.

Odd Design Sensibilities

John August, screenwriter and creator of FDR’s main competition (FDX Reader), has a lot to say about Final Draft Reader. His notes concerning the app’s typography (Courier) is most telling: FDR has a lot of wasted space on that screen. Beyond the font, there’s also a lot of white space in between dialogue and action lines.

FDR also handles shooting scripts quite nicely.

FDR also handles shooting scripts quite nicely.

Let’s get this out of the way: Courier is a tremendously flawed font. There’s a reason people stopped using typewriters, and the reasons are all evident here. Courier is hard to read and the spacing in between letters is not consistent. But it doesn’t matter as much on the iPad as it does the iPhone. For whatever reason (likely because Final Draft has made it so), Courier is the standard font for all Hollywood screenplays. Until they change their mind, consistency between all their applications is not necessarily a bad thing, but a positive thing — even if the tradeoff means that in gaining consistency, we experience some odd design choices along the way.

Most of this is relatively moot with the iPad: full Final Draft pagination is supported in the app. The pages are textured nicely and are easy to look at, and thanks to the size of the display, easy to read. There’s a reason John August’s blog takes a close look at the iPhone app and not the iPad app, because the iPad app is, frankly, much nicer.

John August’s app is not free, nor does it allow any sort of annotations. You can’t edit ScriptNotes on the go with his app. That’s a bit of a shame, because technically speaking, it does feature a nicer design. But there is a lot to be said for consistency.

Where you stand on this likely comes down to personal preference. I like being able to add ScriptNotes, but I’m not a professional reader, I’m a hobbyist screenwriter. Professional readers might be looking for the cleanest design and the cleanest typography.

Who Is This For?

Until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you who this app was for. As a reading app, it was priced far too high for its value and FDX Reader made a lot more sense. But now that it’s a universal app and it’s free, this app is almost a must-have for anybody who writes screenplays, regardless of design flaws. Reading is so natural on the iPad, and the ability to read my screenplays like they’re printed manuscripts without paying for the ink or paper to print them is really nice. It’s more fully featured than FDX Reader, and it’s finally at that magical price point.

But Final Draft now has Final Draft Writer on the market. It’s expensive, but it allows full-out editing on the go. Final Draft Reader is clearly meant to be a gateway drug; the company is hoping that trying the free app leads you to purchase their flagship mobile product. It’s a smart strategy, and it will likely work for screenwriters who value being productive on the go. In the meantime though, despite its admitted design flaws, its value makes Final Draft Reader a tough gateway drug to resist.


Summary

The official Final Draft Reader makes it easy to read and annotate your screenplays on the go, and it's finally free.

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