Whether you’re a professional filmmaker with a big budget or an aspiring talent with a camcorder strapped to the palm of your hand, it’s likely you know that to make a movie you need a script. Your script determines pretty much everything about the nature of your production. Apart from the obvious “what the characters do and say,” you have locations, props, costumes, sounds, and even scheduling all inherently tied in. The details go on and on and become infinitesimally more and more granular as you progress through them. The great difficulty for anyone who requires access to this myriad of important data is that its buried within all those pages of story.
Like Final Draft or Movie Magic, Celtx is an application designed to let you write your script in the appropriate format with ease, rescuing you from the otherwise stop-and-start nightmare of industry formatting. The similarities end here, however. Celtx is designed from the ground up to be a complete preproduction tool. It can extract, collect and consolidate the data within the pages of your script with precision and ease. And it’s free.
At version 0.9.9.6, Celtx is arguably the best, most used and most accessible preproduction application you’ve never heard of. To cover all that Celtx can (and eventually will) do would be to rewrite their already vastly detailed wiki. I will instead focus on three innovative, key features.
Writers: you’re not alone.
Part of the reason for the fast growing success of Celtx is due to its server-side integration, which not only allows you to collaborate with fellow project members through the cloud, but also enables you to put your work on display for anyone accessing Celtx’s Project Central website to see.
The Celtx application is the means by which you set up your Project Central account and fill out your profile. Once a member, you can upload your project to the server with the click of a button. That project can then be published along with your choice of tag line, description, genre, image, and even web video. You can also choose whether to allow comments, which Celtx calls reviews. The walled garden of Project Central is the place your project will then exhibit, being seen and possibly even reviewed by fellow Cetlx users.
This community is definitely one of the more supportive of the online varieties. Forcing the setup of up an account through the Celtx application certainly makes a difference. The members are typically contributers who understand the effort involved in a project. And, unlike a two minute YouTube clip, consuming the media in a Celtx project takes an investment of your time (not to mention the ability to read), further reducing the likelihood of a burgeoning troll population.
Collaboration, which Celtx dubs sharing, is a far more private affair and goes well beyond enabling a person to read and comment on your work. When you share your project with a fellow Celtx user, they are able to download and edit it as if it were their own. Enabling or disabling people’s access to your project is as simple as typing or deleting their user name. There is a built in notification system that tells you when access to a project has been granted, allowing collaborators to conveniently announce their changes back and forth to one another.
A feature destined for 1.0 is Version Control, which will enable collaborators to merge different instances of the same project and incorporate the various changes from amongst the group. Meanwhile, Snapshots will let you keep specified versions of your project stored on the server, while changes are initiated back and forth between collaborators on the work in progress, allowing members of your group the comfort of knowing they can always refer, or even revert back to a previous defined state.
The community and collaboration features of Celtx mean saying goodbye to the stereotype of the writer in solitude and hello to a new age of creative development in the screen writing process.
Take control of your data.
There are a variety of unique and useful Forms built into Celtx, which link to elements within your script, such as character details, locations, props, special FX and more. Once generated they inhabit the Project Library, which is accessible at all times. Clicking a Form in the Project Library opens it in a tab alongside your script, making it easy to switch between tasks.
Forms can be freestanding, meaning to exist in a project they do not first have to be linked to an element in the script; handy for doing preparation and development work. Otherwise, Forms can be generated from within the script, stemming from and linking to items you identify. During the writing process, this can be extremely helpful. If you’re a writer who often finds themselves jotting down notes about your characters, details such as their background, motivation, traits, etc, you’ll appreciate the ability to unify and readily access that information within the same application you use to write your story. When the writing is done and you’re ready to move into production, having Forms for all of your props, for example, will really come in handy. Like all other Forms, those for props can be generated either as you write, or later on after the script is finished, and even by another member of the team via the sharing feature.
Each type of Form has a specific design and layout. The props Form, for example, has sections in it such as prop profile, details, procurement, and contact information, each with their own relevant fields. Forms are media rich capable, with a Google image search button built right in: a nice touch for assisting you in bringing in the right picture of the shovel or lamp that you envision in your story. Celtx, through a lot of user feedback, has managed to do most of the organizational work for you; all that’s left for you is to plug in the relevant information.
Creative people often find it difficult to stay organized, and trying to do so can be distracting, but with the Forms feature in Celtx the distractions disappear. Forms keep you organized, which in turn allows your creativity to flow.
Timing is everything.
When the script is finally ready and all the details are in place, you’ll need to work out a schedule for your production. Celtx has a full fledged Calender application built right in, which speaks directly with your project. From here you can add information to a scene such as its real world location and details about the shoot. Scenes can then be drag-and-dropped onto days in the Calender and customized like any event in a typical calender app, including the requisite “completed” check box. The Calender also includes special events like “moving” and “day off” which can be dragged in and customized. With everything in place, you can print your Calender as a list, a weekly planner, or a monthly grid.
It has some nice touches, is both clean and easy to use, but in all the Calender feels the least developed of the Celtx features, and the makers acknowledge this. Destined for 1.0 is a much deeper integration of the Calender with the rest of your Celtx project, tying together the data you’ve collected in your Forms and generating much more of a production binder than a simple schedule.
So is there a catch?
It’s important to keep in mind that nothing like Celtx has ever previously existed at any price. At version 0.9.9.6, one might easily presume that 1.0 will usher in, as its final feature, a price tag. The makers of Celtx are adamant that everything Celtx is presently capable of will remain free of charge. Celtx was built around usability and features as opposed to revenue models.
Altruistic as that may be, revenue generation will eventually be needed in order for Celtx to continue, and so the makers are presently exploring options, mainly via the server-side implementation of services. One possibility is offering groups and production companies the option of paying for their own private, customized Project Central. Meanwhile, on the current Project Central, it would seem natural to expect an eventual advertising presence, particularly as they strengthen its social utility functions. Features such as Snapshots, which are presently limited to eight per project, may be offered at higher volumes with a la carte pricing to those who require it.
Presently, the typical Celtx user is from the low-to-no budget class of screenwriters and filmmakers. There’s no revenue to be gained from these users, and as such they will likely never feel the sting of pricing in Celtx. Comprising an installed user base of around 100,000, however, they do manage to make Celtx an undeniable presence in the screen writing world. Meanwhile, Celtx is setting itself apart from the competition with its integrated preproduction tools. All this will hopefully lead to an eventual adoption by industry professionals, as they’re more specialized needs will likely be the key to Celtx’s revenue generation.
The fact remains that right now, what you see is what you get, and with each subsequent release leading up to 1.0 users have continually gotten more. Since it likely won’t be until the Spring of 2008 before Celtx launches itself out of beta, that’s a trend that is likely to continue. The power of Celtx today, the potential of Celtx tomorrow, and all for the cost of a smile, which, here at MacApper, are always free.
Writing a script? Check out CeltX.