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?