Celtx, A Review

by David Lane

We are several days into Script Frenzy, a thirty day challenge to write a script, either a movie, play, television or graphic magazine. The challenge is similar to the fall exercise known as National Novel Writing Month where you have to write a novel. But where NaNo is about word count, Script Frenzy is about page count. But this is not the only difference.

If you have even seen a script, you will notice that it is very formal. There is a recognized syntax, format and style that has to be observed. It is this style that makes writing a script very difficult beyond coming up with plot, characters and motivation to actually sit down and write three to five pages per day.

So if you have taken the plunge and decided that you can write the next Matrix, you may have slammed against the frustration of formatting. And if, like me, you do not write a lot of scripts, you might be looking for a tool that will allow you to get up and running quickly, will not cost you a month’s salary and will do the hard stuff for you. There are a number of templates available for your favorite word processing package and they are OK. I used the ones for Open Office and that lasted about two pages before I was ready to throw the netbook across the room. It just was not working for me. I spent more time formatting than I did writing. So I started looking around.

One of the programs that popped up was Celtx which bills itself as The #1 Choice for Media Pre-Production. What I liked was it was Open-Source, would run on my platform (Ubuntu) and would do a lot of the heavy lifting of script writing for me. So I downloaded it and started using it. It will also run on Windows and Macintosh, making it a nice cross-platform application as well.

If you find you want to use it, I encourage you to read the well written wiki, both on how to install it and how to leverage its abilities.

I found it very easy to install and start using, even without reading the wiki. The first thing I noticed about the program is that, like its novel writing brethren, it has a full plotting tool, character motivation and description templates, along with a whole host of additional tools for doing full-fledged pre-production, whether you are doing a movie, a play or comic book.

But you see I am not a plot-first type of writer. I write from the beginning to the end, letting the characters take me where they will. Is Celtx able to handle this style of writing? The answer is yes. The program will add your characters to the Master Catalog as you type so you can fill in their details (or not) as you desire at a later point, or not. It will add your slugs (scene heads) to the running list of scenes and other wise stay out of your way as you write. For me, this is critical, because I just want something that will do my formatting for me. At least, right now.

The other feature I wanted is to be able to print out my script. There are three features for this. One is a straight print button that will send your hard copy to your choice of printers. The second, a PDF formatter (that only works when you are connected to the Internet) and third, an export feature that will export your script fully formatted to a text file that you can then import into another program.

So call me impressed. I was looking for a simple editor and I have a full-featured development, no, pre-production environment and all of it is open source. What more could you want?

Well, there is more. After all, it is a pre-production environment, not just a script writing tool, and for a small yearly fee, you can buy yourself a studio. This is a web (dare I say cloud) environment where you can upload your project and share it with up to five (or more if you want to pay more) people. There is a rudimentary configuration management tool, where you can put a number of script...er...projects for others on your team to work with. Being connected to the studio also enables the PDF formatting engine that puts a stylistically correct title page and other wrappers around your script to make it into a truly professional package. Celtx also sells additional tools that you might feel are necessary, depending on how deeply into the process you want to go.

So whether you are getting ready to make the next Gone with the Wind or banging out the next Death Bed: The Bed That Eats as part of Script Frenzy, Celtx will do it for you. And who knows, if you are successful, maybe someday Patton Oswalt will do a bit about you.

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