Tomorrow I am giving a lecture on screenplay formatting in the screenwriting course I’m teaching this semester at Temple University. It’s a fairly straightforward topic; you can go over the basics in about an hour or so. The problem in the past when I’ve taught this stuff to college students and in workshops is that most beginning writers only have access to Microsoft Word, which can be a real chore to use as screenwriting software. Of course, they could invest in software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter, but those are pricey (around $180) — not a wise investment unless you know you’re going to be pursuing screenwriting as a career.

(As a side note, universities do sometimes invest in this software — Temple has it in some of their computer labs — but writing a screenplay in bits and pieces in various computer labs during their free hours is problematic for students that work, etc. I’ve found the software gets used intermittently at best.)

Anyway, this brings me to Celtx, which is an open source (i.e., free) screenwriting and pre-production tool. I tested it out last fall and it didn’t seem quite ready for use. Today, I downloaded a new version of it ( Now it’s got my attention.

After a few hours of toying with it, here are my jotted-down impressions:

1. I’m not crazy about the weird splash screen interface at the beginning, but maybe I can grow to appreciate it.

2. Once you get into the actual application the interface is clean, well-organized. Celtx appears to do what it aims to if you’re writing from scratch.

3. It can be a little finicky at times when you’re quickly moving from one format to another (say, dialogue to action). In that sense it’s kind of like Final Draft when it was in 3.0 or 4.0 mode.

4. “More” and “continued” either don’t exist or aren’t working. This needs to be fixed before being ready for prime-time.

5. Column for moving scenes around is appreciated and it works. Unfortunately, moving groups of scenes (like a sequence) can’t be done at once. That would be useful.

6. I love being able to move via tabs from the main window to the title page to “Scene Details”and “Character” pages that help you keep your thoughts organized.

7. Importing from Final Draft (sorry, I don’t have MMS) is not flawless. You save in FD as a txt file and then import. But importing doesn’t retain breaks between different paragraphs of action/description. RTF importing isn’t supported.

8. Not sure I understand (or like) the internet features. Why should I use this instead of a regular browser? And I don’t want to upload my work to the world. These efforts seem to be an effort to distance itself from the competitors, but I wonder if this is an unproductive detour?

9. Haven’t tried out the breakdown and scheduling features. More on this later, perhaps. Could make it a killer pre-production app.

I wouldn’t say I’ve run the thing through its paces, but for someone that in his earliest days wrote screenplays using Microsoft Word (and before that Bank Street Writer on an Apple ][e !), I have to say this program is an absolute must for students, beginners, and anyone else that doesn’t want to shell out the money for FD or MMS. And that goes double for an application that’s not even reached its 1.0 release. This is VERY promising stuff.

I do not recommend it yet for those sending out their scripts to people/production companies for financing. I think “more” and “continued” have got to be fixed before it’s ready for that. But my guess is that it won’t be long before this and the other bugs listed above are fixed.

I’ve previously written that “an inexpensive… tool that doesn’t get the job done is less of a bargain than an overpriced mass-produced tool that does get the job done.” It’s a beautiful thing, though, when the open source developers prove the opposite is true.

My guess is that when the developers fix its few shortcomings Celtx will surpass Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter in the same way that Firefox has surpassed Internet Explorer and (for me, at least) Safari.

Anyone else tried it out?

9 Responses to “Celtx!”

  1. Chris Says:

    “8. Not sure I understand (or like) the internet features. Why should I use this instead of a regular browser? And I don’t want to upload my work to the world. These efforts seem to be an effort to distance itself from the competitors, but I wonder if this is an unproductive detour?”

    The main deal with the internet features are (1) collaboration (Send your script to the Celtx Server (you will be able to host your own server in the future)) and (2) research. Your preproduction team can use the web feature to get bits of text, images, and media and get these stuck in with various elements of the breakdowns. I’m not sure so much as if they are trying to distance themself from competitors as they are trying to create a feature that is making Celtx the ultimate pre-productive environment.

    I’ve used Celtx since about version 0.6 and I am a huge fan (in fact I’m wearing my Celtx tee shirt as I type this!!!).

    “I think “more” and “continued” have got to be fixed before it’s ready….”
    This is something in constant debate at the Celtx forum, and there are always two sides, those who want more and continued and those who don’t. The Celtx team is really trying to not bloat the software with useless features, and this is a tough one because the debate is constant about whether its worth putting in or not. Some users have suggested a preference option so you can choose whether or not you want it, and others just plain ol’ don’t want it.

    Enjoying your blog, and good to see you’ve found Celtx!

  2. dvd Says:

    This sounds interesting – mainly because I need some breakdown and scheduling software. I’ll download it and see how that works. I’ll also see how importing MMS works – I use both that and Final Draft (I like writing in MMS, because it has better intuition, but ultimately I like the formatting in FD better, so I transfer my scripts to that program before I print them out).

  3. Paul Says:

    Interesting, very interesting….

    Chris: I didn’t know that “mores and continueds” could arouse such debate! Thanks for filling me in on the internet features. You’re right, they do sound useful.

    David: Let me know what you think. I think it’s indicative of something that you use both MMS and FD because you’re fully satisfied by neither! For my part, I’ve been very satisfied by FD 6, but have heard that FD7 is like paying for a virus. (Check out the VersionTracker feedback.) If it’s as bad as people say, I know I’ll need an alternative at some point.

  4. david Says:

    As you say, I’ve found some minor bugs while switching between text formats – it sometimes makes text disappear entirely. It only seams to happens to me when I switch the format too quickly by mashing the TAB key. This bug can be a pain in the ass if your brain is going too fast for your hands and you want to get all the ideas down quickly.

    Having said that, it’s not a big enough of a problem for me to switch to FD or MMS. I am a cheap bastard, and for a 100% free product, Celtx rocks.

  5. dvd Says:

    Importing from MMS seems pretty much the same as FD. Save as a txt file, no breaks in action paragraphs, etc. I haven’t really tried writing in it yet – I immediately started applying the breakdown functions to a script that’ll be going into production soon. It’s about the same as MMS, as far as generating reports and tagging elements; I must say the sidebar is pretty helpful, as far as tagging goes. I also like the tabs. I haven’t really started to see how it works, as far as scheduling goes – it’s no MM Scheduling, that’s for sure, but I think it’ll be better than Excel, once I figure out all the bells and whistles.

  6. Paul Says:

    RE: the scheduling function:

    I’ve not tried Celtx on this front, as I said, but I’ll be interested to see how it works. At the moment, I have the luxury of using Movie Magic Scheduler — Temple owns some licenses, including one that goes on my (university-owned) laptop. It’s a great program, but if you can’t get the academic pricing for it, it’s almost prohibitively expensive. Priced for studios, not individuals. (A foolish gambit, in these times, say I. But I digress.)

    Don’t know if anyone else has tried Gorilla, another candidate on the market. Limited experimenting with it, but my sense is that it’s not a serious alternative. The application is complicated (and buggy at times). Moving files from computers is ridiculously complicated. (You have to copy the whole program and transfer the license!) The whole thing is essentially a FileMaker database. It’s priced at $400 for the “Pro Version.” That’s about $350 too much, I think.

    Company Move is another new player on the market. Priced at $199 (with free upgrades) it’s a bit more reasonably priced than EP/Movie Magic Scheduling. Don’t know if it’s a contender or not, but I think when I briefly demo-ed it I found it did do pretty good call sheets. It does seem designed for Assistant Directors more than Producers (i.e., not being linked to a budgeting program, as opposed to the EP titles). Anyone else tried it?

    In the meantime I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Celtx. It’s success could mean that either a) I’ll use it or b) Entertainment Partners will start pricing their software for individuals instead of big prod companies.

  7. dvd Says:

    If you have access to MM Scheduler (which I was able to use on one project), then there’s no point whatsoever in using Celtx for the same purpose. It ain’t even close. But I like the idea of it forcing the market price down on the more professional software.

  8. Self-Reliant Filmmaking » Blog Archive » The story so far… and your daily dose of inspiration Says:

    […] There’s talk of tools: Not just camera stuff, but also things like software reviews, widget round-ups, and a few posts on DIY film tools (including this popular one). I even created a rollyo search engine for film and digital cinema. […]

  9. Julia Joyce Says:

    I respectfully disagree about the MORE and CONTINUED interface discussion. I think it is wasteful and offensive to suggest to a script reader that they have more pages to go — when they clearly have more pages in their hands. It suggests that they are morons and you have to keep showing them that you have written more. When I seek financing for my screenplays, the LAST thing I want to do is insult my potential backer’s intelligence at least once on each and every page.

    Celtx ROCKS!