Macworld Review: Montage 1.4
Once upon a time, it was enough for a screenwriting program to simply format dialogue, magically inserting MOREs and CONTINUEDs where needed. But today, when even the most rudimentary word processor can meet 90 percent of script formatting needs, specialized screenwriting applications must deliver more. Mariner Software's Montage 1.4 takes an approach to writing that's refreshingly different than what you get from industry-dominating competitors like Final Draft. Nontraditional features like integrated research tools and scene filtering by keyword or scene status offer intriguing workflow possibilities.
Thankfully, the most recent incarnations of Montage have largely banished the bugs that plagued early releases. I'm impressed by Mariner Software's speedy customer support and eagerness to engage users in building future features. Moreover, version 1.4 is a free upgrade for all current users.
Targeted more to the independent screenwriter writing "on spec" than to the studio script doctor, Montage 1.4 delivers a fully integrated set of flexible tools designed to help bring a screenplay from idea to sale--all within a single, elegantly organized program.
For most writers, character bios, research notes, treatments, and outlines are written long before double-clicking a screenwriting software icon. Montage's easy-to-use outlining tools help you accomplish the bulk of this legwork and bundle it all together within one document file.
The application's Smart View feature, while not new to this version, is the creative tool you never realized you needed--and that you now won't be able to live without. Essentially, it allows you to tag all your scenes with metadata, and then display only scenes that meet your criteria. Say you're writing an ensemble film boasting a tangle of characters and plotlines. Tag your scenes as A-story, B-story, and C-story, and voil
Smart View also plays a major role in Montage's unique approach to rewriting. Historically, rewriting has required extensive use of the Save As... command. The headache of this approach comes when you decide you like an old version better and find yourself wading through dozens of drafts, cutting and pasting to salvage scrapped scenes. In Montage, a writer can create several versions of a scene, all contained within a single file. Rendering a final script is then as easy as tagging the chosen scene versions as final and creating an appropriate Smart View filter.
But Montage is more than an intelligent interface. A Hollywood screenwriting legend once said, "The easiest thing to do on earth is not to write." Montage helps procrastinating scribes escape the temptations of toolbars and the wiles of widgets with one of my favorite features--full-screen mode. Simple and effective, this customizable white-text-on-blue-background view helps you plow through that first draft relatively distraction-free.
Indie filmmakers eager to begin shooting their Montage masterpieces will also welcome much needed features like the ability to add scene numbers. Montage 1.4 can also export your script in EP Scheduling software's Scheduling Exchange (.sex) format for use with popular film production scheduling programs.
Importing an existing Final Draft screenplay into Montage is a breeze, and very little format cleanup is required. You can now export screenplays to the .fdr format as well. But don't mistake Montage's ability to import and export to Final Draft format as a tool for cross-program collaboration. Final Draft revision marks and ScriptNotes disappear on import, and repeated file transfers from one program to the other can produce undesired artifacts.
My biggest frustration with Montage is the lack of WYSIWYG pagination, an absolute necessity for screenwriting software. For better or worse, studio readers judge pacing by page count. It's frustrating when you brutally edit your romantic comedy down to a lean 110 pages only to have Montage's MOREs and CONTINUEDs tack on another five pages upon printing. Sure, you can turn off such dialogue formatting options and preview pagination by printing to a PDF document first. But given Montage's overall programmatic elegance, the clunky workflow here is disappointing.
Lest we forget, the real purpose of a screenplay isn't just to make a writer rich. First and foremost, a screenplay is a blueprint for making a feature film. Despite significant strides in recent updates, when it comes to dealing with the arcane version control requirements of working with a "locked" production script, Montage still isn't quite ready for prime time.
And professional writers will find vital features, like support for revision marks and A-B pages, conspicuously absent. Of course, you can always export your script to Final Draft to finish the job, but that defeats the purpose. For Montage to gain a toehold among working screenwriters (yes, they do exist), these shortcomings must be addressed.
Mariner Software acknowledges Montage's current limitations and plan to address them with the release of version 2.0 in the upcoming year.
Macworld's buying advice
If you're looking to get that million-dollar spec script out of your head and onto the page, Montage 1.4's intuitive interface, streamlined outlining approach, and powerful editing tools could be just what the director ordered. And, if you use a previous Montage version, upgrading is a no-brainer, and free of charge. But if you've already landed that TV deal and need a tool for tackling production rewrites, you may be better off waiting for the sequel.
[Tim Haddock is a writer and corporate communications professional living in Vermont.]