Reports | Technology

Sophocles: Screenwriting Software

1 Dec , 1999  

Written by Peter Bohush | Posted by:

Writer Peter Bohush --fan of underdog products -- reviews the screenwriting software Sophocles.

Adam Rifkin, 20something writer of "Mouse Hunt," "Small Soldiers," and director of "Detroit Rock City," writes all his scripts using the same method: writing longhand on a yellow legal pad, sitting on the center section of an old couch at his mother’s house, and eating tuna fish sandwiches that his mother makes. His mother also types up all his scripts. Since Adam’s mother has not offered similar accommodations to any of us, we probably should be using some software to write our scripts.

Sophocles, the Greek dramatist, is long dead. Sophocles, the scriptwriting software, is not, and is much more stable. Sophocles the poet had some serious problems going on in his mind, stating "not to be born is best." He also praised his impotence as an "escape from a mad and savage master." (In "Oedipus Rex," he originated the theory that if you don’t stop you’ll go blind, although mothers since have twisted the specific acts leading to blindness.)

I’ve been handling Sophocles (the software) extensively on a new script, and I am impressed. It is as easy or easier to use than Movie Magic (MM), which I own, or Final Draft (FD), which I did own a long time ago and still like. The simplicity of the interface, which allows you to bookmark scenes, action, and even dialogue for inclusion in an Outline window, makes it easier to see where I am in the script as a whole. Sophocles approaches scriptwriting from a somewhat different perspective than Movie Magic Screenwriter and Final Draft, although ultimately the result will be a properly formatted, printed script. Sophocles bills itself as a "story creation tool" instead of a word processor, and there is truth to that.

Tab and Type

There are some key differences between Sophocles and the others. One is that Sophocles does not dwell on the display of WYSIWYG formatting onscreen. Writing a script is accomplished similarly to MM and FD, hitting tab and return to jump to dialog and action/scene slugs. But you only set up the formatting in Sophocles when it’s time to print the script. You still have the ability to "view" the script onscreen in a standard format, and actually have more options than FD or MM in terms of screen colors. Sophocles color codes script elements such as scene headings, character names, and transitions. It does not actively number the scenes onscreen, but this is accomplished when printing. It does offer the ability to edit and create new script formats.

Get the Big Picture

The second major difference is that Sophocles, by default, operates with two window panes onscreen. The right pane is where you type and edit your script. The left window is a graphical depiction of your screenplay. The scenes, characters, actions, etc., are listed in a tree-like structure, updated as you type, in this Explorer window. You can always get the "big picture" about your script this way. It takes a little getting used to, but I think that anyone who writes a script using Sophocles may not want to go back to a single-window word processor-based app like Final Draft.

The outlining feature in the left window is similar to the Index Card feature of FD and MM, but doesn’t take the "card" paradigm. It is used more to quickly move scenes around and get an overview of the script as a whole. Script elements can be tagged and added to the outline hierarchy, making a really nice structural view of the script visible at all times.

Importing/Exporting Features

Sophocles comes with a couple of sample scripts inside it, which give you a good idea of how to use Sophocles’ tagging features to advantage when writing a script. It also can import and export scripts in text format. (It does not support direct import/export from other script software formats or word processors.) I was able to import my script for "Geezers" as a two-step process from Movie Magic. First I exported from MM as a text file, then imported it into Sophocles. The import came in without a hitch (something that has been a challenge in MM), with the only exception being that Sophocles does not have a "Shot" element, so it changed my Shots to Action elements, preserving the capitalization. I was also able to import and export with Movie Magic via saving files as RTF first.

Powerful Reporting

Because of the outlining functionality, Sophocles can generate numerous reports quickly, such as locations, scenes, character lists, etc., with one button. One of the most interesting I found was the Stats report, which broke down my script for "Geezers" and showed me some really detailed information, like the percentages of characters who speak, how often, for how long, how often one character speaks after another, etc. It counts the words in the script and breaks them out by dialog words, action words, etc.

Pretty interesting to know that 39.5% of my scenes have fewer than 50 words in them. I guess I have some kind of "terse style"! But this is also a great way to analyze your script quickly to see if it’s too fat or slim in certain areas.

Sophocles offers what it calls "dyad reports," indicating the scenes and stats of those scenes where two characters speak to one another. If John and Mary rattle on for 18 pages over five scenes, it could be time to trim some dialog. Writers who like the "notes" features in MM and FD will find a similar feature in Sophocles, although in Sophocles you write notes in a text box that’s part of the Explorer window. This means the notes will not print with your script, which is a plus or minus depending on your preferences.

Sophocles also cannot export the contents of the outline window, which would be very useful in both writing and production. Tim Sheehan, author of Sophocles, promised me this feature in the next version, due soon.


The bottom line on Sophocles is that I just like it. (I like Movie Magic and Final Draft, too. In fact, Movie Magic’s tech support has been nothing short of wonderful when I’ve called.) Sophocles is a small application, uses little RAM, and speeds along without slowing down to play catch-up on page formatting, since it does this at print time.

If you’re looking for your first scriptwriting software, I would recommend either Movie Magic’s Hollywood Scriptwriter product or Sophocles. If you want to try something new to stir your creative juices, Sophocles is a great alternative to MM and FD.

Keep in mind that Sophocles is not yet widely used by the Hollywood industry, so providing electronic versions of scripts you sell will raise import/export issues. But that occurs now with MM and FD, which don’t import/export exactly between each other. And most scripts sent are on paper until the big sale, so don’t count Sophocles out on this issue, unless you are already employed as a series writer, and your bosses might get mad if you send them a script in a funky format.

The best recommendation, of course, is to keep writing, whether using a software product or on yellow legal pads. As Sophocles himself once said, "Albacore vincit omnia." (Tuna fish conquers all.)

Download a fully functional version of Sophocles at (Export not supported, and a watermark will appear on printed pages of the demo version. Upgrading to full version is simple, just type in the valid serial number into the script window and it’s done.) Sophocles sells for $120 and is only available online as a download.