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Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginners Guide Paperback – 14 Mar 2011
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About the Author
Ralph Roberts is a decorated Vietnam Veteran and worked with NASA during the Apollo moon program. He built his first personal computer in 1976 and has been writing about them and on them since his first published article "Down with Typewriters" in 1978. He has written over 100 books along with thousands of articles and short stories. His best sellers include the first U.S. book on computer viruses (which resulted in several appearances on national TV) and Classic Cooking with Coca-Cola®, a cookbook that has been in continuous print for the past 16 years and sold half a million copies. He is also a video producer with over 100 DVD titles now for sale nationally on places such as Amazon.com, and has also produced hundreds of hours of video for local TV in the Western North Carolina area, and has sold scripts to Hollywood producers
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"Open source" refers to the Celtx program being built on standards that avoid the need to pay for licences and royalties. Now, this might sound as if, as screenwriters, we are expected to edge into technical territory (all right for some, but not everyone), but this term merely explains why Celtx is good for us - because the software is free. In fact the only cost will be for this book, and that makes it low-cost.
Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginner's Guide promises to give us the secret of turning out a professionally-produced document that is correctly formatted for whatever genre of the entertainment industry we are writing. Okay, the temptation here is to review and extol the many virtues of the Celtx software, but that's not what this is about. I suppose this is because Roberts' book and the software seem to work so perfectly hand-in-hand.
It is targeted at everyone who is interested in writing and using a PC to get their stories down on paper: industry professionals, home-video makers, film clubs, or people who just want to produce a script for fun - and you never know where that might lead. . .
So what's the problem with scripts that makes them so difficult to type out? Surely the odd badly-spaced bit of dialogue and slugline here and there wouldn't be noticed. . .? Would it? Put simply, producers and TV professionals on both sides of the Atlantic are particularly picky about how the story in a script is laid out on paper. I know from the experience of one fellow wannabe writer that an unprofessional-looking script stands little chance of even being read if it doesn't illustrate a degree of professionalism; and it doesn't matter how great the story is. This book not only teaches what to use, but also how to use it.
Although the word "screenwriting" is in the title, the book also covers writing radio plays, storyboards, comic books, documentaries (I've worked on some of those), and - this was what really grabbed my interest - stage plays. Why? Because the program I had been using will only offer a stage template for the US version; I wanted the European version, and Celtx offers both US and UK by default.
There are chapters dedicated to each of the writing formats, with illustrations - including useful screenshots - and flowing text that leaves nothing for granted. The uncanny thing, I found, was that as soon as a question occurred to me it was then answered in the text, thus showing a logical progression of information. Oh, and unlike some text books, this is written in such a friendly manner there is no doubt as to whose side the author is on. I mention this because, especially with some maths books, the impression is that the authors know all the answers, but are not really comfortable sharing them with the reader.
It should be mentioned that this isn't merely a guide to formatting, but also how to write a logline, an outline, a treatment, and guidelines on how to deal with the industry and market the project.
In my initial read-through I was not left with unanswered questions, although, as I continue to use Celtx, that may change. If it does, and I think my suggestions might be useful for future editions, I can contact the author because he has included his email address.
I liked the comprehensive contents section that makes it easy to find where you want to be. Unlike some books this also comes with an index. After explanations there are useful What just happened? sections that help clarification. Roberts' honest style reveals the features gradually - but not slowly. And if he thinks that Celtx is falling short of perfection he tells you, even mentioning bugs that need sorting out.
Had I not had the book then getting around the software would have been so much more time-consuming. In fact, you can begin writing a story as you work through.
What I didn't like - and this is only a minor gripe - is that, because the author is based in the US, there is no mention of the differences in dealing with UK-based producers; it is clearly aimed at the American market - but then so are most of the screenwriting text books I have collected over the years. Don't let this put you off as there's plenty of relevant information and advice to make it worth buying. After all, storytelling is the same on both continents.
On a presentation level, I liked the sans-serif font used for the text; this is particularly relevant to the eBook version because, in my opinion, it is easier to read on a backlit display. And the hyperlinks actually work, making it easy to jump from the contents, index, or to any of the websites listed in the text. Oh, and the page numbering: have you noticed how, when reading full books using Adobe, the printed page numbers tend not to correspond with the number shown in the toolbar? Well they do here. It's in the detail, you see.
This book is a pleasure to use and covers more than I would have expected in its 376 pages. The author describes the software as "the Swiss Army Knife of pre-production software", and I would say that his book is essential reading to help get the best out of Celtx. Yes, I will recommend this to others.
The net result is a bugger's muddle that completely fails to express their beautifully honed inner vision in any meaningful way. How do I know? Because I made all of these mistakes and several more that I'm too embarrassed to recount.
I learned the basics the hard way, by buying several screenwriting books, going on courses and reading scripts. Even then I always had this nagging feeling that my scripts were missing something tremendously important. I still have that nagging feeling. I don't think it ever goes away.
Back to the point. New screenwriters don't have to cough up a couple of hundred quid for Final Draft. There's an excellent piece of software called Celtx which does everything FD does and a bunch more besides. It's free and it works well.
But Celtx isn't going to jump off the screen and tell you how to use it or how to format a script or what a synopsis is or what the difference is between a logline and a tagline.
That's where Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginner's Guide comes in. Ignore the baffling `open source' bit in the title, this book is aimed squarely at new screenwriters who want to get on with writing their magnum opus. All the information they need is here: not only how to install and drive Celtx and how to write and edit a script but also how to work with different project types including feature scripts, documentaries, stage plays, audio plays and so on.
The book then rises above your average `how to' by including a shedload of useful information about treatments, synopses, outlines and, of course, loglines and taglines. There's a whole chapter on how to market your script and a list of recommended screenwriting books.
This book won't turn you into the next Aaron Sorkin, but if you're standing at the starting line scratching your head, it'll give you a solid boost in the right direction. It's available in old-fashioned paper and new-fangled electronic formats. One's cheaper than the other. Guess which.
All in all worth a few quid of your money. Download Celtx, buy this book, get your head down and get your first script done.
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