Screenwriting Software – Celtx vs Final Draft

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When writing a feature screenplay, there are certain things you can do to make your life easier.

Whilst there is no escaping the hours, days, weeks and months of plot planning and writing the actual thing, making sure you have an easy work flow can save hours in re-writing notes and copy and pasting scenes from one document to another. Here’s what was happening to me.

Firstly, when writing shorts, I was using Word. Don’t do it. It was a big mistake – and pretty much made because of my ignorance to screenwriting programs. These programs  will save you time which should be spent concentrating on your script and not fiddling around with whether your text should be in capitals, centred, or whatever else that may crop up.

So I began browsing the web for such a piece of software. Firstly, I turned to Final Draft. It’s the industry standard and comes with all the right perks you would want from this kind of software. Suddenly, all that wasted time was behind me, I now had a writing program that was aiding my ability to write a screenplay. Now all I needed to do was download the App so I could write on the go too. Err…Argh.

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That’s right, Final Draft doesn’t do a phone app. Until last summer, they didn’t even have a writing version for the iPad. This made me angry on two levels. One, you’re supposed to be the leading program in your field and yet you don’t have a phone app version of your software. Two, you don’t have a phone version of your software, but you do have a iPad version??? Would it have killed you to have made a slightly smaller model? I can’t imagine its a giant leap in technology considering 90% of all apps do it.

This led to irritating problems. I would find myself writing in iPhone Notes, emailing myself, transferring it to Final Draft, spending an hour sorting it out into the correct tagline, action or dialogue function, before I started with the evening’s actual writing. My efforts to save time dwindled away. I began looking for something better.

Celtx is a screenwriting app. It’s also a desktop program and a web-based piece of software. It literally lets me save on my laptop, walk out the door and carrying on writing on my iPhone (lamp posts not withstanding). I could even write at work in my lunch break from the computers there. It has intelligent typing, allowing you to switch from Action, Dialogue and Character mode through the ‘Enter’ key alone. It also has a nifty index card screen as well as sophisticated production notes windows for you to compile production information as well as photographs of filming locations. It’s phone app isn’t perfect, it is a tad fiddly, but it will save you time and allow you to get on with the most important aspect of screenwriting; THE WRITING!  It’s also only a third of the price of Final Draft too (approx £9).

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So to sum up in an Ash-from-Evil-Dead metaphor, Celtx is like a boom-stick, blowing away my practical screenwriting issues like a she-bitch from hell…

On With The Show

After 14 months of slaving away over my ‘Untitled Script’ film fans (and likewise makers), I can proudly say we are ready to GO! Between drafts 5 and 7 I have squeezed the page count down to 104 and feel it’s very much a case of ‘If I don’t start shooting soon, I’m going to eat my own hands’ and this is no good to some who needs them to point at things whilst making films.

I’m going to reveal the title very soon, but not before I register it in all the right places. The real point of this post is that I now feel at a point where lots of experiences will be coming thick and fast and I want to share them with you as they happen. There are also a few tips I’ve picked up in the screenwriting process along the way that I should have posted months ago. Sorry for that, but every time I’ve gotten on a laptop and thought about posting, the screenwriter in my head whacks me with my screenplay and says ‘Would you rather be writing about making your film or writing your actual film?’

Besides, the whole point of this blog is to report my experiences as I make a film and hopefully offer some insight along the way. If all I did was talk about how I want to make a film instead of doing it, I’d be shirking my responsibilities somewhat. So there’s my first piece of advice for 2013; if you are blogging about making a film, stop it, immediately. Go and do some work on your screenplay and then blog about that when you’re done. After all, who else is going to write it?

London Lift-Off Film Festival 2012

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Last week I attended the 2012 London Lift Off Festival at the Curzon Cinema. I was great to head back to a festival that means so much to me personally and this time I had the honour of being a judge. What I love about this festival is its ethos; story is king. It’s not about style, or getting a famous face in somewhere to heighten your publicity (although if you have these skills or contacts, good luck to you), its about the story staying with you no matter how it was produced.

Reviewing the films I received was an incredibly enjoyable process. I’ve been banging on about films for years and finally my opinion was being used for a purpose.

On the night I attended, Killing Anna by Paul Gallasch was screening. When Paul broke up from his long term girlfriend he found himself unable to move on.

After several months of trying, he decides to put on a funeral service for her in an attempt to get over his heartbreak, documenting the whole thing. It’s quite a brilliant, strange and yet incredibly truthful film. Paul lets us into his deepest thoughts and feelings and is so honest about the raw nature of his heartbreak that, although we might have all been there at some point and cringe as he goes through every stage of getting over someone, we can’t help but feel the upmost sympathy for him (and his ex girlfriend).

I also watched the feature Without by Mark Jackson which starts in tedium as Joslyn (Joslyn Jensen) becomes the live-in carer for the vegetative Frank whilst his anally retentive family go on holiday. Between the isolation of a house without TV (apart from the fishing channel), phone signal or internet, Joslyn is left to her own devices – making friends and enemies with the neighbours and never quite trusting the ever looming Frank (is he just putting it on?). Jackson allows us to slowly become acquainted with Jocelyn, her secrets, her loves, the way she and I guess we all behave when nobody is watching, stripping her down one piece at a time until we get to the truth about who she is and why.

The story pulls you in like a black hole; slowly at first, but always tugging, until your entirely sucked into it. This is helped hugely by the cinematography (Jessica Dimmock and Diego Garcia) especially inside the house where shadows seem to grip the edge of everything and only that which is in close focus is apparent. It simply looks beautiful.

There is also a lovely, if unusual cover.

I really love the experience of seeing quality films at festivals, purely because the chances of ever having the opportunity of finding out about them is remote otherwise.

I was also lucky enough to find a few really strong contenders whilst and one in particular that I wanted to talk about here – since horror is my genre of choice. The Hole by AHN Joon-seong, despite being about the 59th film to carry that title, is the story of a young man who whilst trying desperately to stay out of trouble only manages to dig (excuse the pun) himself deeper and deeper into it with his good intentions. For its 20 minute duration I was on tenderhooks as this poor guy just ends up in the most hideous of situations, paying the price for not acting quickly enough to help a woman in distress. It looks and plays out brilliantly and only didn’t make the Lift Off Festival because of programming constraints. It deserves to be championed and AHN Joon-seong certainly seems like a film maker to watch out for. The Hole by AHN Joon-seong.

Being a judge has been a great experience and it all came from getting my short around the festival circuit. It is vital that if you are making shorts that you get them seen by as many as possible. London Lift Off and it’s subsequent festivals is a great opportunity to do so.

Life, Business, and on with the Feature

Summer came, and went. Autumn is packing it’s suitcase and as I write this from a warm tube train my hands are currently defrosting from the oncoming winter winds. The fact that I am writing this post however is a good one. Draft five of the script is finished.The story has been tightened. I look down upon my script (I have to imagine this as its written in Celtx on my iPhone) and it feels good! But there’s one problem. My script is sprawling! It’s currently 139 pages long. I was aiming for an 80 pager! The nature of the the production and cost mean I’d probably be able to shoot all 139 pages and make those all important cuts in the edit. But I want to be more disciplined than that. So on the script side of things – I’m pretty much happy with everything but its ability to keep a door ajar (again, I have to think outside the iPhone).
This is the first post in a long time and that’s been down to a number of things. Mainly, LIFE! Since my last post, I’ve moved (twice), started a business, been hired free lance, and most brilliantly got engaged to the woman of my dreams. I’ve been busy. But the film must go on, and it has been. Re-drafting, location scouting, and budget raising have all been on-going and I will discuss each one in more detail in up coming posts.
But I shall leave this one with a fantastic short by Patrick Jean (although I’m a little slow to this one as its been around for a few years already). ‘Pixels’ shows the world under attack from… well, you guessed it, and has come to my attention at a time when I’m reading ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline (All 80’s themed and gaming related) and have taken up a role as Story Content provider for a gaming company (Research Through Gaming), so it really struck a chord. It’s such a brilliantly simple idea that makes me want to lock myself in a room for 6 months and learn the kind of software fx programmes that allow you to create things as marvellous as this. BUT NO MORE DISTRACTIONS NOW! ON WITH PRODUCTION!

P.S. speaking of game themed videos – this too is a work of genius for anyone of the mortal kombat generation. If I can just find out how they made it… NO! THE FILM IS THE THING!

Film Crew… Assemble!

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Crew mates… Producers Matt Pearson, Ellen Wishart and myself (left to right)

It’s been a couple of months now since I took a critical look at my feature script. This for the most part has been on purpose – I felt very much neck deep in the story and now, browsing through it, feel I can really start hacking away with the red sharpie to get the concise story I want to tell. It’s also been a period in which I’ve invited others to read and share their thoughts on the story. The feedback I’ve received has been highly encouraging. Of course some of it was probably biast – I don’t expect my mother to tear It down Kermode-style, but I did get something from the friends I offered it out to. “I sat there, and was scared to leave my room.” “I went for a smoke in the garden and kept thinking about your bloody script – it freaked me out.”
Clearly at this point I donned my best Vincent Price cackle and returned to the laboratory whaling “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Of course, the most important people to get the script to were the crew. And so last night in a pub just off of Oxford Circus, the first production meeting for our “untitled” feature got underway. Those in attendance included myself, Matt Pearson, my co-producer and editor and producer Ellen Wishart.

Story was discussed, locations were drawn up and a timeframe for production was sketched out. Shooting will take place on weekends from late September through to early December.

Weekends seem to be the best approach The team around me is one I have worked with before and one I trust and so finding an approach which makes it easier for them to be involved is essential – we all have bills to pay and roofs to keep over our heads – as low budget filmmakers, Mon-Fri 9-5 covers this like it does for everyone else.

The same is true for some of the other integral people that couldn’t attend our first meeting. Director of Photography, Chris Omand (Down Terrace) is away on a shoot and my writing partner Chris Shaw was also unable to make it. This kind of thing is only a problem if you make it one. These people have good careers, I’m not out to make a film at the expense of these careers and quite frankly, I’d be an arse to think they’d follow me if that was my ethic. Hell, Chris Nolan filmed his debut feature over a year’s worth of weekends and if it’s good enough for the most sort after director in Hollywood, I’m sure I can cope with it.

So here we are. An initial and most valuable crew assembled (with additions on the way), and a target for the next few weeks. Stay tuned, as I hope to record all my recee experiences and show you the world in which our story can be found.

Why Didn’t I Post for Months? Blame Raindance

Here’s a post I should have put up a long while ago. Back in February I headed down to the Apollo Theatre in Piccadilly for a night with director Chris Thomas of Raindance on ‘Directing Essentials‘.

I’m going to take this opportunity to blame Chris for my lack of postings in recent months – that’s right Chris, you’re fault – definitely not mine.

The reason being that whilst I scribbled a whole ton of notes down – some of which I’m only just looking back on today, there was one thing Chris said that has stuck with me  and rang in my ears ever since…

“There are a lot of people out there trying to make a movie, but not so many trying to make a great movie.”

This was serious food for thought. I’ve been working hellishly to get my script working and get it completed, but had I stepped back and considered this?

For Chris, it’s all about “Approach” – its the essential ingredient to a successful film.

For me, getting the script complete and moving on to pre-production as early into the year as possible was of the utmost importance. But as I listened on that night, I started to think more about my story. Was it good enough? Could I improve it? The answer was a resounding “Yes!” Since then, I’ve gone back to the drawing board at least twice, and finally I started to carve out a story that I could really be proud of and most importantly, one that I enjoyed and wanted to see myself – because as Chris put it so well…
“You will not make a script work as a film unless you enjoy it first.
– Do YOU want to see this film?”

Raindance offers many courses like this one. What is covered in one evening is often just a taster to the more lengthy week-long or bi-weekly courses. These range in price, but on average cost around £350. If I had that money readily available and wasn’t trying to raise film funds, I’d be booking myself on them in a heartbeat – this is some seriously valuable film education.

The one-off evenings are priced between £15 – £40 and can still offer a huge amount of insight. Here’s a clip of Raindance founder Elliot Grove talking about the 99 minute film school. I’ve taken this class and if it’s inspiration and a kick up the backside to get out there and start making movies you need, look no further – they can even make you stop posting blog entries completely just to focus on your script – thanks Chris, no seriously, thank you. You can also find some of his film making tips here.

 

 

Film Update – The Screenplay Montage

It’s been three weeks since I completed the fourth draft of my feature script and I have taken some time out to clear my mind and charge my batteries for what I imagine will be a run of months that will bleed into each other like none I have ever experienced before. It’s time to gather the places, the people, the equipment and the money (in that order most likely) to make this film happen.

I’ll be updating the blog a lot more regularly – keeping you up to speed with all the little adventures and obstacles I have to overcome. But before we go there, my last post begun with a few words over about my three month absence from this blog. Problem was, I got very much caught up in the writing process and there is a good reason for this; which I will talk about more in my next post. For now, I’ll just say it’s incredibly difficult at times to commentate on the form of what you are writing if you don’t want to give away any of the details – you just end up with bland sentences such as ‘The beginning of act two doesn’t quite fit with the end of act one.” So what? That’s not very interesting since I’ve given you no valuable information about either of the acts in the first place. I’d end up being the screenwriting version of one of those really annoying Facebook people who use their status updates like a diary memo – “Cleaned bins…” “taking kid (there’s always a bloody kid) to park…” “ate toast today…” “soup!” No one cares.

So, since I’m a film maker, I thought ‘why show you in words when I can show you in moving pictures?’ Below is my Screenplay Montage – a fairly* accurate portrayal of how I wrote my script – it was in no way shot in two days and just because I always wanted a montage of myself… ahem. Hope you enjoy.

Film Update – The Readable Draft

I seem to remember the first post I made on this blog promising something like ‘a post daily’ The word ‘Pah!’ springs to mind.

This is my first post in several weeks for which I am sorry – there have been things worth writing about on my journey to feature film director, but all of my writing time and most of the hours between eating, sleeping and the day job, have been taken up by the screenwriting process itself.

I have attempted to keep an account of how this process has gone and over the next few weeks, a number of posts will be about some of the things I have discovered along the way.

So, where am I with the script? I am proud to say that as of Thursday, 10th May 2012, at approximately 7:30 pm GMT, after 9 months, countless ‘how to’ books, several workshops, over 300 index cards, 4 notepads and the purchase of a giant cork board (you can tell I’ve been writing drama, can’t you), and four drafts, I HAVE A READABLE SCRIPT!

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Me, under laptop.

The experience itself?

In all honesty, it has so far been the most all consuming, exuberant, fearful, joyous, self deflating, self realising, unrelenting, mind boggling, task I have ever undertaken.

How good does it feel to hold a copy in my hands? The temptation to remake Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ springs to mind. Except instead of dancers, they’d be printers shooting reams of paper up into the air like giant pieces of confetti… maybe a giant typewriter as the set piece to with me tap dancing over the keys…

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“We’re gonna need a bigger board.” (For scale, that’s a 40″ TV)

‘Hang on’, you might well say, scrolling back a couple of paragraphs. What do you mean by ‘READABLE’ script?

What I mean is I have a version of the script that I feel comfortably tells the entire story and that I can show to the rest I my production team so we can start to plan for shooting.

Are there too many ideas within it? Probably, but since the logistics require a home-made approach we will probably be able to shoot all these ideas and edit them down in post production.

Is the dialogue clunky in places? It better be or I bought a red Sharpie for nothing – and I love throwing things out. Editing is by far the most enjoyable moment of the process.

To loosely paraphrase Robert McKee – the writer must first use his imagination to write actions and spoken words, and then step back and look at what he/she has done and ask ‘Does it work?’ ‘Can it be improved?’ ‘Is there a better way?’ This is honing the craft of screenwriting.

This is where I am and it feels great to have come this far.

The First Draft

It’s been over a week since I wrote those long awaited last two words ‘The End’ on the first draft of my script and leaving it alone proved to be as difficult as being trapped in a room made of bubble wrap whilst wearing giant sponge hands. However, I resisted the urge by watching some films, starting a new book and focusing on trying to put the story out of my mind for just a little while. This last task proved near impossible as this project has now been at the forefront of my mind for almost six months.

Anyway, when the time came to re-read, I found myself doing two things; one, because I hadn’t really stopped thinking about it, I was already mentally making improvements and two, having started to read Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘On Filmmaking’, I was now becoming wrapped up in intrinsic aspects of scene building I wasn’t aware of before and that I knew in large areas my script might be lacking. You can imagine the outcome – I read through my script at speed, tutting, frowning and being over all rather despondent at the outcome. 

With a couple of day’s hindsight on this, I really shouldn’t have been so overly critical of myself. IT’S ONLY A FIRST DRAFT – IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE TERRIBLE.

Well, ‘terrible’ is probably too harsh a term to use. It was a long and drawn out exercise, but has left me knowing more about my story than I did before. I now have a better grasp on what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be changed in order to work.

Having completed reading the first draft, I did two things. I re-read Elliot Grove’s chapters of scene writing and dialogue and read what Mackendrick had to say on the art too. Grove breaks down scene’s into handy charts that let you carve out what you require from your scene – whether this be what the goal of the scene is, who is in conflict with this, how this might be achieved and are there any twists that can make the scene more interesting. Add to this, note taking on characters moral point of views and character essays and it allows you to shape these scenes through the actions and voices of your characters – which is what good screen writing is all about.

Mackendrick, although offering very little in the way of practical advice, does offer some words of wisdom:

“Remember that scripts are not so much written as rewritten and rewritten and rewritten… So plunge ahead regardless. Don’t wait to get it right, just get it written.“

– ‘On Filmaking’, Alexander Mackendrick.

Rewrite two has begun.

And as for films I’ve watched, I was recommended this wonderful short, directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp entitled ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’

First Draft Finished

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I write this having only five minutes ago finished the first draft of the as yet untitled screenplay. I feel both ecstatic and exhausted. It’s been a rather interesting process – a hundred and twenty pages of action and dialogue that had to be committed to paper in order to move forward. Along the way, I’ve had ideas, tried to jiggle the plot. Got myself lost up alleyways and trapped in corners. On most of these occasions I realised I should have just stuck to my index cards as they were the best guide to getting through it all.

I can already see the disjointed bits and plot holes – or just weird jumps from one scene to another, but that’s all okay, it’s just part of the process. To make up a weird metaphor (and hopefully not sound like David Brent), it feels like I just made a big pool of jelly; ideas and moments of dialogue all glooped together that have a connection, but are yet to become clear, defined and more solid – shall I show you my dance moves now?

Anyway, I’m off to not think about the script for a week or maybe two. Taking the advice of such great teachers as Elliot Grove and Syd Field, it’s time to take a break, go watch some movies and catch up on other things. Once I get that distance I can come back and start to move all those scenes and characters into place. – knowing me it’ll be more like a couple of days, but here’s hoping – I think it’ll make all the difference.

With the initial draft finished, I can also start to think about a production list and a budget (nails firmly between teeth). But I’ll save those jobs and worries for tomorrow!