Celtx, a Scripting Wonder

Celtx LogoAnyone who has worked in video/film or larger multimedia projects knows that the tasks of scriptwriting and pre-production are not as easy as they first appear. Now, it’s not just the rigid structure of the script itself which is the only issue — if it were, the simple macros for Word, OpenOffice.org Writer and other word processors would suffice — but it’s also the need to track characters, share the script with others, write production notes, do breakdowns of scenes, characters, props, CGI, special effects, locations, and so on. And if you opt for a professional scriptwriting applications like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter, you’ll have to forfeit several hundred dollars US for applications that are often buggy, or at least outmoded by modern UI standards. So if you’re a budding screenwriter or a multimedia scripter on a limited budget, what are your options?

A few hours away from me, in the unassuming little provincial capital of Newfoundland named St. John’s (pop. about 120K), there toils a little crew pumping out some high-class software. Their flagship product, a screenwriting and pre-production application called Celtx, is something I’ve kept one eye on for a long while. (Coincidentally, I wasn’t even aware that this was a local project at first.) An Open Source application based on the Mozilla –yes, as in Firefox– code, it’s come a long way in the past year or so. When last I peeked at it, it was a very early version that proved rather slow, bug-ridden, and the cause of much aggravation when doing any degree of writing. But how it’s changed! Now, it’s a little shining star carrying with it hope for all those who have been burned by the unstable and costly Final Draft (or one’s inability to afford it in the first place).

Celtx is a comprehensive software package designed for people who work in the Film, TV, Theatre and New Media industries. It combines full-feature scriptwriting with media rich pre-production support and enables online collaboration. (celtx – Overview)

I’m seen a number of Mozilla-based applications in the past, but this one puts them all to shame. Not only doesn’t it “feel” like a browser in any way, but the functionality is, by far and away, one of the most comprehensive scriptwriting experiences I’ve ever encountered. Besides including a server synchronisation that permits others to see the script, its pre-production breakdown and database system allows you to insert text, graphics, video and audio which are all linked to the salient parts of your script. For example, when you mention a particular location, for example a park, you can have the script link directly into its database where you can keep a picture of the park and some key points to remember about it. Almost anything can be linked into this database, including props, makeup, F/X, production notes, electrics, and so on. In essence, it’s a one-stop shop to take you from writing the script all the way into pre-production — perfect for multimedia use and independent filmmakers.

And since it’s Open Source, it’s free of charge. If you’re a scriptwriter of any type, or dream of writing the great American/Canadian/etc. screenplay, be sure to check out Celtx.

Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials

Jack KerouacMerlin over at 43 Folders has a post about a wonderful site for writers called Language Is A Virus. It’s easy to get caught up in all the great mind-bending (and mind-freeing) techniques awaiting unwary visitors in almost every corner of the site.

One of the things Merlin links to specifically is a list of Jack Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Modern Prose. I started falling in love with Kerouac’s books back in the last year of high school, and it was about this time that my writing really took off. I found this particular list in a book about the Beat Generation, lingering in a stack of library discards (the content was deemed “unsuitable”), and it spoke to me immediately and with such a voice as I’ve never heard. This single page has been my chief source of inspiration for creative writing for a long time, and I have carried around a tattered type-written copy of it now for 18 years.

I’m glad to see it revived for the digital age, when Kerouac’s work might be deemed “suitable” once more.

Review: Writer’s Cafe

Back in the bronze age –my high school and university years, to be more specific– I spent a lot of time writing fiction. Just like every other struggling writer (and perhaps those with far more experience), the development of plot and subplot elements within story lines proved to be one of the most intimidating and frustrating parts of the writing process. And, like so many others during that epoch, I turned to index cards. I’d jot down a title like “Man peers down into sewage drain” and then use the rest of the card for details. Afterwards I’d lay out the cards on a large table and shuffle them about till I was satisfied with the progression. Nowadays, I often use outliners for that purpose, but they never felt, well… authentic to me, at least as a writer.

Writer\'s Cafe: StoryLinesEnter the Writer’s CafĂ©, a woefully under-publicised application from a UK husband-and-wife team that seeks to deliver an authentic writing experience in ways other software falls flat. The duo is an interesting couple: Dr. Julian Smart is a fairly well-known software developer, the man behind the cross-platform wxWidgets project, and Harriet Smart is a novelist with several books to her credit. For this product, they combined their respective disciplines to create an application that might prove invaluable –if not essential– to many writers.

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“I’m not dead yet…!”

Just working around the clock….

On the plus side, I think I finally found my Holy Grail of personal content management, the new version of DEVONthink (Mac OS X only, I’m afraid). It hasn’t impressed me as an ideal solution in the past, but the last few iterations are amazing. It’s been quite an enabling little beast for my job at hand, allowing me to sift through thousands of pages of text (plain, RTF, HTML and PDF), find related entries, track my sources, manage all related media, and write various documents without bother or fuss. Its capabilities are constantly surprising me. Stay tuned for a write-up….