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…

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 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.

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.