The days of writing a screenplay without proper screenwriting software are over. Like most people, I began my screenwriting days using MS Word and was it ever painful. No shortcuts, no hot keys, incorrect formatting and all around messy for screenwriters. But I stuck with it because it was all I had. I used it until the day I popped for real screenwriting software. Final Draft cost me $260. It was worth every cent but we don’t all reach the point where we break down and buy an expensive piece of software for what might ultimately turn out to be only a hobby.
So how do we write screenplays if we don’t have the proper software and a daunting $260 price tag hanging over our heads? Recently I began researching screenwriting software on the internet. I thought: somewhere out there, there is something that works correctly AND is free. I searched and searched and downloaded a lot of programs to test drive them to see if they held their ground against the real deal, Final Draft. Everything I tried came up painfully short for my needs. Until several weeks ago.
I was digging around on Google when I finally hit it, Celtx Script; and a Canada based company called Greyfirst Corporation is responsible. The story goes, several years ago they were tired of big companies charging hundreds of dollars for software that should be free. So, what did they do? They developed software and made it free. Pretty simple.
On to the actual software. Now that I’ve given Celtx a fair ride I can say honestly I am impressed and not just because it’s free. Some might say, “well it’s free, I shouldn’t complain.” I don’t have many complaints to begin with, that’s how good this thing is. I would easily pay a hundred dollars for this but it just so happens I don’t need to. It is almost on par with Final Draft, however it falls short in a few areas. These shortcomings aren’t really a big deal they are just a few things that slow the writing process slightly. I’ll get into that.
Celtx features many different modes including “screenwriting,” “collaboration,” “scheduling,” “elements” and “storyboarding.” It is, in a way, complete pre-production scheduling software. The screenwriting interface is straightforward, very simple to use. It has nearly every feature Final Draft does. It has automatic element insertion. Example, if you write a transition, a CUT TO: the software knows without you doing anything that the next element after a transition is a new scene heading and graciously sets one up for you. If you write action and then want a character to speak you can hit the “TAB” key and it centers your cursor for a character name. You type in the first letter of the character’s name and a drop down menu appears listing every character that begins with that letter. If you begin to type “Paul” and there are 3 other characters whose names begin with “P” then their names appear as well, you simply select the name you want and the software puts it in place.
The piece of the puzzle Final Draft accomplishes that Celtx does not in this area is Final Draft automatically inserts the name of the character that is the next logical speaker. Example, if Paul and Peter are having a conversation, Paul speaks then Peter speaks, Final Draft knows the next speaker is most likely Paul once again. Even though Celtx does not have this feature, you can still move very quickly by selecting the name from the drop down menu.
The screenplay interface comes with different windows for the screenplay, the title page, a quick note taker called “scratch pad”, index cards to outline your story with and reports so you can take note of every scene every character is in so you can better build a shooting schedule. All of these additional features are in easy to find and even easier to use tabs at the bottom of the screen.
The great thing Celtx has that Final Draft does not is a separate interface for character building. In this interface you can name your character and build their entire back-story. The interface hides behind the screenplay interface for extremely convenient access.
Collaboration. Great feature. Final Draft calls their version “Collabowriter,” which allows you to share your work in progress with other people who have the same program. You can work on it over the internet in real time. Celtx’s collaboration feature works much the same way. An added bonus is Celtx is available for both Mac and PC and the files are 100% cross-platform compatible. So you can write half on your Mac and send it to a buddy who has a PC and he can pick up where you left off without compatibility issues. Flipping sweet I say!
Scheduling is a feature more unique to Celtx. Final Draft is for writing and that’s about it. So, with Celtx if you’re getting a film project off the ground but can’t seem to keep your various Post-it notes with shooting dates and the like all in the same pile, fear not! Keep all your crap organized in the easy to use feature.
The storyboard feature I absolutely cannot comment on, I have no basis of comparison for it but if it works as well as the other aspects of the program do, I’m sure if you know what you’re doing it will be a breeze.
I can’t say for sure but organization seemed to be paramount with these Canadian developers over at Greyfirst because every aspect of a project is so easily accessible. The program has several side menus, which categorize everything automatically, and what is great is there aren’t so many sidebars and menus that you get lost trying to find something, it’s the perfect amount and a brilliant feature.
There is no longer a reason to write with a program not designed for screenwriting. Find a search engine such as Google and type in “Celtx,” it is usually the first hit. Click to download, it’s a small file, virus free and best of all it’s an awesome program at no cost whatsoever.
(Photo from Pexels)