Top positive review
This book makes the free software a pleasure to use
on 19 April 2011
Whilst the title of this book is accurate, I have to say that at first glance it looked as if it was aimed at computer technicians - it's the mention of "open source" that threw me. But what the book is really about is using a software program called Celtx to correctly format scripts for film, TV, stage, and more. With a background in writing - and having recently got a master's degree in Professional Writing (specialising in screenwriting) - I have been using FinalDraft: a program that is considered by many authorities to be the industry standard, but which fails on some levels, and I wanted to see if Celtx could do better. This placed me in an ideal position to give this book a thorough trial and see how it complements the software.
"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.