Celtx: Free Screenplay Software

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2729, 2009-07-17, as a feature article, in both their PDF edition (on pages 17-23) and their website. The article was featured in a Celtx blog post, by Sheila Crosbie of the Celtx Development Team, on 2009-07-22

Professional movie production, like so many other artistic and commercial fields, has undergone tremendous changes as a result of technological advances, including the use of computers. For instance, when a filmmaker nowadays wants to show a huge crowd of people, such as a marching army, he can use computer-generated imagery (CGI). The results may look not entirely realistic, but it certainly saves money and time. In the past, budgetary restraints could require such a scene to be cut from the story. Alternatively, the director might have elected to hire a large number of extras, as was done in the 1960s classic "Spartacus" and other historical movies. (Too bad so many of those extras were wearing wristwatches! Or perhaps even Roman slaves need to stay on schedule.)

Computers have also revolutionized screenwriting (though possibly to less an extent than movie production and editing). In the early days of movies (silent and otherwise), stage plays, and TV shows, most writers in Hollywood and New York used typewriters. But now just about every serious entertainment writer utilizes some sort of software, whether it be a general-purpose word processing program (such as Microsoft Word) or a program specifically designed for crafting screenplays and other creative writing.

There are over half a dozen screenplay applications currently on the market, and they all offer some basic functionality, such as properly formatting the slug lines, scene descriptions, character names, dialogue, and other elements of a script. On the other hand, all of the screenplay programs differ from one another in extra features and in their user interfaces. But most of click cancel share a common characteristic — a price tag.

A notable exception to this rule is Celtx (pronounced "kel tix"), which is completely free of charge. In this article, we will take a closer look at what the program has to offer.

Fade In

The best way to learn whether or not any given computer program will fit your needs, is to take it for a test drive. Because Celtx does not cost a dime and does not contain any spyware, there is no excuse not to download it and check it out. Start by visiting the Celtx homepage.

Celtx homepage
Figure 1. Celtx homepage

One thing you may notice immediately is that on the homepage, there is absolutely no mention of screenplays or screenwriting; rather, Celtx is billed as the "#1 choice for media pre-production". That's because the program encompasses more than screenwriting: Firstly, it is intended to be useful for every step in the pre-production process — writing the script, developing the characters, storyboarding the scenes and scene sequences, scheduling the production, and more. Secondly, as noted on the website, it is designed for use with "all types of media — film, video, documentary, theater, machinima, comics, advertising, video games, music video, radio, podcasts, videocasts, and however else you choose to tell your story."

Next go to the Download tab, and look for the link that corresponds to your language and operating system. There are currently 31 languages supported, and three operating systems — Windows, Mac OS X (version 10.4 or higher), and Linux. In addition, there is a version of the program for the eeePC, although only for English. In this article, we will be using the Windows version for English. As of this writing, the latest release is version 2.0.1.

Although Celtx is a fully functional tool that in many respects rivals its commercial competitors — such as Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter — it requires less disk space and system memory. The installation file for Celtx is less than 16 megabytes, and thus less than half the size of Final Draft and less than one third the size of Movie Magic Screenwriter. Once installed on your hard drive, it consumes less than 36 megabytes space, compared to 44 megabytes and 10 megabytes, respectively (all figures are rounded). System memory usage, at 21 megabytes, is more than Final Draft (17 megabytes) and much less than Movie Magic Screenwriter (31 megabytes). But given the ever-increasing size of installed memory and hard drives, these resource requirements are for most people of no consequence.

Even though Celtx is a desktop application that allows you to work even when not connected to the Internet — unlike one of its rivals, ScriptBuddy — it does leverage the power of the Internet through Celtx Studios, which is an online repository for your writing projects. It provides secure offsite backup of your screenplay (every version), online meetings and other collaboration on the project, and sharing of production files. As of this writing, the cost is only five dollars per month.

As you explore Celtx, you will find that it supports each pre-production stage of just about any sort of creative media project. For developing your story, you can utilize the built-in forms that handle 36 production categories, including characters, locations, props, and scenes. You can even include images, videos, and audio files. The program has editors for six major categories of media: screenplays, stageplays, audio-visual scripts (such as multimedia ads, documentaries, and music videos), audio plays (such as podcasts and radio plays), comic books, and plain text presentations.

In addition, Celtx offers valuable features found in better known commercial programs: automatic script formatting to industry standards, pagination, spell checking, automatic completion of known names, two-column dialogue, scene management, embedded notes, collaboration with others on the same project, a title page editor, export in PDF format, storyboard playback, and numerous other capabilities. Just like the commercial screenplay applications, Celtx allows you to quickly reorder the scenes in your screenplay using colored virtual index cards, which display the scene headers and first few dozen words in the scene. You can even add notes to the back of each card.

One advantage to using a tool that handles other types of projects in addition to screenplays, is that you can quickly convert from one to another. In other words, if Hollywood doesn't care for your screenplay, simply choose the menu item Tools > Adapt To > Stageplay, and then you can try it on Broadway.

To learn more about these features, you can view the eight Flash-based tutorials on the Celtx feature tour page. They cover a range of topics: features, document editors, document adaptation, sidebars, master catalogs, storyboards, schedules, and Celtx Studio.

On the Big Screen

When you start Celtx, you will be presented with a splash page. On the left, it shows a list of available project templates, for film, audio-visual, theater, audio play, storyboards, and comic books. On the right is a list of sample projects, offering five real-world projects from the realms of film, audio-visual, audio, theater, and comics. You can click on the "Recent" link in that section to see projects you have recently worked on, if any. Underneath that section are buttons to browse projects on the Celtx Studios server and on your local computer. The splash page also shows a project of the week, as well as some community news.

Celtx splash page
Figure 2. Celtx splash page

As you are editing your screenplay, you will see the screenplay text in the main panel in the center of the application, the project library panel and scene navigator on the left side, and the sidebars on the right.

Celtx screenplay editing
Figure 3. Celtx screenplay editing

The storyboarding functionality makes it possible to organize storyboards in sequence, add notes to any of them, and play them back like a slide show.

Celtx storyboarding
Figure 4. Celtx storyboarding

Celtx goes far beyond other screenplay programs in its support for production scheduling. You can schedule blocks of time on a calendar, and assign to each block the scene that you intend to shoot. The panel on top allows you to keep track of which scenes have been scheduled and which ones completed.

Celtx scheduling
Figure 5. Celtx scheduling

Fade Out

Aside from the aforesaid video tutorials, support can also be obtained by reading the Celtx documentation, organized as a wiki, and by visiting the active Celtx forums, where you will find general discussions, fellow writers willing to review your handiwork, writers seeking collaboration, script competitions, Celtx news, feature requests, bug reports, and more.

According to the Celtx website, it has become the screenplay program of choice for more than half a million media creators, in 160 countries, working in 28 languages. It is also used by students and teachers in more than 1,800 film schools and universities.

If it has worked this well for some many aspiring screenwriters, it is certainly worthwhile for you to give it a try and find out if it is the ideal tool to help you create the next Hollywood blockbuster.

Copyright © 2009 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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