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?

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.

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.

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!

Tis the season to flake out.

I know this all depends on where in the globe you are, but right now in the UK it’s a very grim time of year. It’s dark when you leave for the day job, it’s dark when you begin to journey home, my body is still recovering from Christmas food and drink, a few injuries incurred through the drinking season, and in the first week back to the day job, the fight to go to bed at a reasonable hour is still on. In a nutshell; I’m tired.

But I am writing. On the train to work, on the train home, several hours of an evening. The script is shaping up. It’s still early days and as of today I’m approaching the half way point of the first ‘words to paper’ draft. This is the point where I just have to write and get everything down. It’s like how a painter can’t really paint until he or she has constructed the canvas to paint on – and this is going to be a hundred and fifty page canvas.

Since I am spending so much time writing, it’s become difficult to know what to post here. But over the last week I have read some interesting things to aid not so much my writing, but getting over that post-Christmas exhaustion/back to work blues and hopefully find myself not feeling so sleepy and tired – after all I have got a film to make and that might take more than a can of red bull to get through.

So… Your body is as important a tool as your brain – terribleminds.com has a great article on things you should be doing as a writer. All the tips are encouraging, positive and helpful, but at a time of year when everyone has eaten and drank too much of the wrong things and you are too busy writing (or whatever you are doing) to think about much else, the tip that has stuck in my mind the most is Stop Treating Your Body Like A Dumpster which I am entirely guilty of.

Unrelated from the writing process but equally as important, I have discovered a few good blogs and videos this week I thought were worth a mention.

Seventeen Evergreen’s video for ‘Polarity Song’ has a wonderful ‘wish I’d thought of that’ concept and is worth a look.

I found this video on Laura Evers Johns blog, a Virgin Media Short’s shortlister with her film ‘By Hook’, also worth a watch.

And finally, another film that caught my attention was this wonderful animation by The Theory entitled ‘Address Is Approximate’. ‘Ace’ is the only word to describe it.