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Write a Screenplay with Celtx

For when you're ready to make the move from self-absorbed blog posts to self-absorbed Hollywood blockbusters!

If you realize “I need to write something,” chances are that you automatically reach for your favorite text editor or word processor. For plain text, vim or emacs suffices, while OpenOffice.org’s Write tackles word processing and formatted documents. To be sure, all three applications are great programs, and each excels as a general purpose writing tool — but such broadness is also a weakness.

Novels, for instance, can certainly be written using something like Write, but to really plan a novel, with its intricacies of characters, events, and locations, specialized novel-writing software comes in really handy. The Macintosh, for instance, has Scrivener. But Scrivener isn’t free in any sense of the word. And when it comes to plays and screenplays, writing tools must be even more specialized. Scripts must conform to a very specific format — one that would be a complete pain to type by hand. Think about doing something like this by hand, writing a hundred plus pages:

VERONICA violently lets go of him.

        VERONICA
    I’m going to school. Maybe later
    you’ll be a bit more rational.

        DANTE
      (pause)
    Thirty-seven. I just can’t...

So, what’s a Linux aficianado cum budding screenwriter to do? Just point your browser to http://www.celtx.com/download.html and download Celtx. Unzip and unarchive the package, copy it to a convenient, central location (/opt is a good choice), cd to the celtx directory, and type ./celtx.

The first time you open Celtx (and every time afterward), a Getting Started window appears. If you’re new to scriptwriting or if you just want to learn more about this software, click on The Wizard to open up a Celtx project pre-populated with a script and related information for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Everything is already in place, including the script, images, PDFs, Web bookmarks, and even a spreadsheet for the film’s budget. Oz is a fantastic way to quickly get an idea of the scope and power of this program.

Celtx organizes your work into projects. Within a project, you organize the myriad of components for your script into folders. By default, Celtx includes the most commonly required folders, such as Characters, Scenes, Locations, and Actors, although you can create your own as well. Within each folder, you place Items. Press Add Item, choose the item you’d like to add, and fill out the form appropriate for that particular kind of item. Adding a location, for example, asks you for a description, an address, contact information, dates available, square footage, and rental cost. In addition, there’s room to place multimedia, such as photos or a Google map.

Of course, the real focus of the program is the script itself. Celtx understands the formatting requirements of a script, with a dropdown that enables you to specify that the text you’ve typed is a scene heading, action, dialog, or parenthetical, to name but a few. Even cooler, Celtx is smart enough to do a lot of work for you.

Let’s say you want to type out some dialog spoken by one of your characters. From the Formatting dropdown, choose Character and start to type your character’s name, say, Randal. Assuming that you used Randal earlier in your script, Celtx will auto-complete your character’s name, as well as auto-formatting the name in all-caps, so that you simply have to hit Enter to end up with RANDAL. If you press Enter a second time, to go to the line of dialog, Celtx automatically chooses the Dialog formatting, so you simply have to type. Celtx even breaks the lines to the correct length for you. Celtx does the boring stuff, so you can focus on writing.

If you plan to get serious with Celtx, consider creating an account that allows you to log in to the Celtx servers. You can collaborate with others on your project, store your project offsite, and even share your brilliant script with the world.

One of the coolest aspects of Celtx is that it’s built with XUL, the technology that powers Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird. In fact, Celtx is so good that it should serve as the poster-child for what can be done with XUL and related Mozilla creations. Of course, it’s yet another example of the excellent software that open source can produce.

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