A Beginning Filmmaker’s Review of Screenwriting Software Celtx

Today is a guest blog post from someone who is new to the business. Phil Stevens — videographer, husband, father, actor and funny man. You may remember Phil as “Big Brother” in my 48 Hour Film Project “The Last Author.” Phil is part of my mentorship program. I asked him to write a review of the pre-production program Celtx. In typical Phil format, this is what he came up with. Enjoy.

Hi, hello, nanoo nanoo, or however these greetings typically should start in a blog. I’m not actually sure.

Phil is the guy with the big, bald and sexy head.

It’s no secret that I’m new to filmmaking and videography, but it’s become one of my driving passions in the past 2 years. I would say I’m an amateur, although I’ve read recently that if you’re making money doing it, you’re actually a professional. (YIPEE! Who knew?) Now, saying that doesn’t mean that I’m good at it, it just means some poor soul paid for my work. (I’m kidding; I’m not that bad. I think.)

Now, I am on a mission to educate myself on all the moving pieces of filmmaking, photography, the business, casting and writing, etc. In fact, I sought out a filmmaking mentor to help keep me accountable on all aspects of the art. Typically I’ve found we limit ourselves when we set out to get better at something and primarily rely on our own methods of accountability and follow-up. Basically, without a mentor guiding, challenging, shaping and keeping you accountable, how ‘good’ can you actually get all by yourself? My mentor is in fact, Ron Dawson. Yes, go ahead, I know you want to clap. I did. In return for some key grip work and behind the scenes help, Ron is gracious enough to check, double check and provide me direction on many things involving my new adventure in filmmaking. I actually think he’s put out more than what I’ve given him I’m considering signing over my first born to him. [Ron's note: he already has a couple of kids. So, this is a totally bogus offer.]

Now to the actual point of this blog. I’ve been cheating. Not on Ron, I wouldn’t do that, the relationship is still new. I am cheating in a specific area of filmmaking. My scripts are, er, were all in MS Word. (I know, don’t judge.) I was really proud of a recent piece of mine and sent it off to the godfather to be blessed and get his stamp of approval. As any good mentor would, within a short amount of time, he reviewed and as always responded quickly and honestly. He said, “Phil you stink, why are you using MS Word for scripts dummy!” Or at least, that’s what I heard.

He actually responded very nicely encouraging me to start putting my writing in an actual, commonly used script format. One that’s easy to read and looks professional. (There’s that BIG word again.) He pointed me toward Scripped.com, because it was a good program for the price… free. One of my favorite things in this world, ‘free’. However, it is no longer free, in fact there are only 2 options to purchase with free use for 30 days. 30 DAYS! Probably that old trick, call and cancel before the month is up. Who remembers to do that? I’m still trying to cancel my Columbia House subscription from 1989. [Ron's note: um, sorry Phil, but as your mentor, I have to call you on this. A good filmmaker must pay attention to the details. Although admittedly Scripped.com does make it hard to understand and see, there IS a free version.]

Feeling like a new, 5-minute old, shiny balloon sat on by a two year-old in a birthday party, I finally landed on Celtx. Open-source software that bills itself the #1 Choice for Media Pre-Production. It also runs on Windows or Macs. Guess what, it was really free! I immediately downloaded the software and converted my script to the ‘real thing’. Ron would be so proud of me, I might actually get a cyber, buckle-to-buckle man hug! Within 15 minutes I converted my kindergarten script to a grown-up script even my Grandpa would be proud of.

I was so excited, I sent it off to the cast first, uploaded it to Google docs, shared it, etc. What I should have done was…. Drumroll… sent it to my mentor. DUH! I eventually did. I couldn’t wait for him to write a song about how I was his best mentee ever! He didn’t write a song at all, in fact he said, “That ain’t screenplay format.” (Yes, Ron used “ain’t,” and yes, you have my permission to judge him.) Wait, what? Not the right format? Foiled again. I felt like a Scooby Doo villain. Then I dove deeper into the actual functionality of the program. What I found was that Celtx allows you to write in 7 different script formats including Film, Audio-Visual, Theater, Audio-Play, Storyboard, Comic Book and Novel. I mistakenly converted my script to a ‘theater’ format. When I should have selected Film. Yes, yes, I know, that’s how new I am.

I reconverted it fairly easy, it allowed me to simply flip the script style. I honestly thought I would have to rewrite the whole thing. Thanks goodness for user-friendly designs. Here’s the good part: because I have no clue what I’m doing, here are my favorite things about this program that make things less complicated for me:

  • It has an easy text style drop down menu to help you format it just right. Actually, you can even use the ‘tab’ button on the keyboard to flip from between text styles.
  • Each piece of the script is a separate tab, i.e. the Title, Body, etc.
  • After you’ve completed all your tabs, you simply convert/format this to PDF with just one button. You can edit and recompile just as easy.
  • Printing is as easy as clinking a button. It basically assumes you prefer PDF and allows you several things to do with that PDF. Even fax. Like… who does that?
  • Other features include cool things like locking your script, revision mode, index cards, story boarding, catalogs, calls sheets, a story development mode, and more.
  • Currently it only supports imports from other programs as plain text script files. So if you use another program like Final Draft (which costs $$$) or Movie Magic Screenwriter (which also costs $$$), save those scripts in plain text format first.

Celtx is very straightforward with one sole purpose in mind: to create various types of scripts, format them to your specifications, convert them to PDF, print and save the project for future editing. [Ron's comment: Isn't that like four or five purposes? :-) ] However, Celtx also has the option to buy various add-ons (what free software doesn’t?) such as dictionaries in 24 different languages, a plot corkboard, full-screen mode, a handy dandy sketch pack (pictures) and a bunch of other useless things. Wait! There’s more! Each little add-on is less tan $5, and most likely, made by some high school kid with acne and a 4-day old pizza next to his computer who worked on a small portion of the open source code looking for a quick buck from some naïve person like you. Yes, that was a hint. Did you get it?

Well that’s it. I’m sure Ron will ask me to blog about something else stupid I’ve done fairly soon. Like put a 4-class SD card in the DSLR and wonder why recording kept getting interrupted. (Shhh. Don’t judge, I fixed it on my own. So there!)

All joking aside, Phil is a great guy, hard worker, and is more talented at this craft than he gives himself credit. He also happens to head up casting for my church and has a large pool of amazing talent to select from on all kinds of projects. If you’re in the Atlanta area and you need actors, Phil’s your man. (Phil is actually a talented actor in his own right). Follow Phil on Twitter: @getyerphil.

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3 Responses to “A Beginning Filmmaker’s Review of Screenwriting Software Celtx”

  1. Celtx is awesome! I’ve used it for years and was really happy when they added the storyboard and comic book options. One of my favorite features is the Master Catalog where it has places for more info than you’ll ever need about your characters or settings. Perfect if you’re co-writing or just want to flesh out your characters better.

    They just added iPhone and iPad versions recently. Bonus!

    Great job, Phil. But why are you making your Grandpa proofread your scripts?

  2. I’ve used Celtx since first learning about it, as a way to easily create documentary scripts so i can show clients how I intend to incorporate quotes from the witness interviews and bridge them with voice over. Works great.

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  1. My Purpose and Process for Personal Work | Dare Dreamer Magazine - November 30, 2011

    [...] Phil is the up-and-coming filmmaker in my mentorship program who has contributed a couple of guest blog posts. He heads up casting at my church, so he has access to a lot of [...]

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