June 30, 2010

Tell Your Story with Celtx


Want to write your story, create a screenplay, block out a storyboard, or create a comic? Put down the text editor, and pick up Celtx. Based on Firefox, Celtx is an all-in-one tool for media pre-production.

What do I mean by "media pre-production"? The prep that goes in before shipping a story, filming a screen play, or putting on a stage play. Writing the script, sketching out characters, scheduling the production, managing set pieces, and pretty much everything else you would need to manage.

Usually, I'm a big fan of Vim for my writing needs — but I'm also a fan of using the right tool for the job. When it comes to the specifics of dealing with media pre-production, I haven't seen a Linux-friendly tool that comes close to Celtx. I wouldn't want to try to use it for a shell script, but it's quite handy for the specific task of media pre-production.

Getting Started

You can find Celtix downloads for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. It may not be packaged for most Linux distros as the license is a bit odd. It's based on the Mozilla Public License version 1.2, but with a few additions that I'm not sure qualify as compliant with the Open Source Definition. It is free as in beer (excepting some add-ons I'll get to shortly) but may not be free as in speech.

On Linux, download the tarball and uncompress it into the directory of your choice:

tar -jxvf Celtx-2.7.tar.bz2

Of course the version number (2.7) will change, but I don't expect the distribution method to change greatly. Now you'll have a celtx directory, just cd to that directory and run ./celtx and you're off to the races.

So Many Choices!

When you fire up Celtx the first time, you'll see several project templates. Here you can choose film, audio-visual, theatre, audio play, storyboard, comic book, or text. You'll also see a list of sample projects on the right-hand side of the dialog.

The choices should be fairly self-explanatory, and there's too many to go into all of them. Let's look at one of the samples, and open the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As I mentioned, Celtx is based on Firefox. You might notice that it has a similar feel to it, but the similarity pretty much ends with tabs and a similar feel to the "chrome" of the application. When you open the template, you'll see that it has a project library on the left, and a tabbed interface on the right that has the storyboard, production schedule, and the screenplay.

Check the right-hand library and you'll see a list of elements that you'll need for the production. The master catalog keeps details on all the elements you want for the production. The actors, the characters, the props, locations, and scene details.

For actors and such, you'll be able to keep their full personal details and dates of availability, description, and (most importantly for the props department) their sizes for wardrobe. Characters are also kept catalogued and you can describe their traits, motivation, and all the details needed for a casting director or actor playing the part. You can also assign an actor to the character once they're cast.

You can also add a storyboard to the library that has pictures and descriptions of each shot.

If you look at the screenplay tab, you'll notice that there's an additional set of tabs at the bottom. This allows you to set up the title page, create a report based on the scenes (useful for breaking down a shoot), a scratchpad to "park" text while you're revising, and index cards for reshuffling plot bits. When you're happy with a script, go to the TypeSet/PDF tab and you'll get a nifty printable version of your script to hand out to the cast and crew.

Click the Add button in the toolbar and you'll see all the available items. The Oz template has a lot of the available features, but not all of them. You can add catalogs for animal handlers, CGI, electrics, extras, construction, stunts, weapons... you name it, Celtx seems to be ready for it.

Want to go a simpler route? If you're just writing a story, you can choose the text template and add elements and catalogs as needed.

Celtx is way too complex to cover every detail, but I would recommend downloading it and taking it for a spin if you do any kind of media production.

Finally, you should check out Celtx's preferences. You can add descriptions to the script templates and "shot words" that will be available in scripts, storyboards, and so forth. You can also disable any of the categories you won't be needing, and modify the production schedule to set the time and days available for shoots.

Tools and More

If you're working with Celtx professionally, you might want to check out the Toolbox. Just as Firefox has add-ons, Celtx has some proprietary add-ons you can purchase to boost its functionality. This includes stuff like a full screen mode, a performance tracker to see how many words are written and how much you're working, and a more attractive plot view. Linux users will also have to follow a few additional steps to get the add-ons up and running.

There's also a studio option you can choose to collaborate with others for about $5 a month for five users, and more for larger casts and crew. This provides some handy features for live production that are probably worth the modest cost. But if you're an aspiring writer creating your first script or comic, you can get by with Celtx for free.


In short, Celtx is the tool you want if you're writing a book, script, play, or other media on Linux. It's a very specific tool that fits those tasks very well. It can also be bent slightly for other forms of media. Case in point, I've been toying with Celtx's storyboard template as a way to prep for talks. It's a lot easier to break down a talk into sections, and is a better way to organize the flow of a talk. At least in my opinion. There's still some duplication of work in creating the slides later, but it's not too bad.

If you're doing this kind of media pre-production, give Celtx a spin. You might find that it makes life a lot easier.

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