Why I Stopped Using Celtx

Notice that the title of this post is why I quit using Celtx. Not why you should, not why anyone else should, and certainly not why I think Celtx is rubbish. In fact, I loved Celtx for many, many years.

After the demise of Sophocles 2003 software in 2007, Celtx became the tool on which I cut my screenwriting teeth. I will forever be grateful to Greyfirst Corp. for the development they made on Celtx. Going from early versions to the last desktop release, version 2.9.7, there was always a great palette of tools—index cards, a scratchpad (invaluable), embedded notes. I wrote my first three features in Celtx, countless shorts, and started all of my current screenwriting WIPs on Celtx. I even won a screenwriting competition using Cetlx software. But I’ve moved on… and here’s why.

1. Celtx is Not an Industry Standard Format: Here’s the thing about screenwriting, it really doesn’t matter what you write with, as long as your screenplay looks like a screenplay. But if you ever sell your screenplay, odds are whoever buys it will want a Final Draft file.

There are a ton of programs out there, ranging from the online-only (for now) WriterDuet.com and Trelby on the free end, to Final Draft and Movie Magic on the high end. Many people are fans of middle-of-the-road software, such as Fade In or Scrivener or… whatever. One thing all of these software packages I mentioned have in common is the one feature Celtx doesn’t have at all, the ability to export a Final Draft file. With Celtx, your options are limited: a proprietary .celtx file, a .pdf which can’t be edited, or a .txt where you’ll lose any special formatting.

Why that’s a deal breaker: If the majority of industry professionals use Final Draft, then the quickest way to mark yourself as an amateur is to NOT be able to send a Final Draft file. Thankfully, this has become much less of an issue in the past few months, thanks to the website http://www.screenplayconverter.com, which allows you to upload your .celtx file and receive a near-perfect .fdx conversion. However, I’m not one to rely on internet-only services. Which brings me to my next issue…

2. Celtx is Now a Cloud Service: If you go to the Celtx website, you’ll see that Celtx offers an amazing degree of production services as part of their $9.99 / month subscription. This includes screenwriting software, scheduling and budgeting software, and a host of other software for filmmakers. The latest version of Celtx is available on your browser, in the cloud. If you want to download the software and use it offline, then you’re stuck with the classic / legacy  software that hasn’t seen any major updates in a couple of years: version 2.9.7.

While version 2.9.7 is a very capable piece of software in its own right, offering features I miss dearly in Final Draft (scratchpad, mainly), it feels like an old piece of software… because it is an old piece of software. It was built on an early build of Firefox. You write in an editor panel, then typeset in a different panel, and you have to be online to typeset because of the typesetting features rely on server processes, not local processes on your computer. Because of this, it’s easy to lose count of how many pages you’ve written until you make it a habit of switching to the typeset tab frequently.

If you want or need offline functionality, you’re either stuck with version 2.9.7, or if you’re on a Mac, you can buy the Celtx scripts app, or if you’re using an iOS device, you can buy the iOS app, or (as of this writing) if you’re using Android, you can download the app for free.

Why that’s a deal breaker: I have this crazy notion that I should always be able to use the software I pay for, whether I have an active internet connection or not. The newest versions of Cetlx is browser-based, so forget about ducking into a no-name greasy spoon, or one of those places that expect you to pay for wi-fi, or an airport where the security of the wi-fi might be less than ideal, or while visiting relatives who have no wi-fi. Sure, these things sound trivial, until it happens. And, hey, there’s always that iPhone app I paid $10 for…

3. Celtx App Policy/Functionality is Confusing: Last summer, I bought Celtx Scripts for my iPhone. I paid $10 for an app that lets me write on my phone. But in order to print a properly formatted screenplay, I have to save that screenplay from my phone and open it on my computer, in version 2.7.9, and THEN do typesetting. Otherwise, the file I wrote on my phone will look like garbage. Page breaks are abrupt, sometimes separating the character attribution from the dialogue. Forget about (MORE)s and (CONT’D)s, and forget about a properly formatted title page—all that MUST be formatted in the desktop software. Also forget about emailing a proof copy of a script while on the go, unless you don’t mind sending an improperly formatted proof.

Celtx did update their iOS app for iOS7, but the formatting issues remain the same. Without the desktop software, the formatting is wonky. In addition, Celtx offers a $20 Mac app that has less functionality built-in than the free 2.9.7 desktop app. The biggest downside of the 2.9.7 desktop software is the need to be online to typeset your screenplay. Also, as I’ve said before, you really have no idea how many pages you’ve written until you typeset, and you can only view your typeset screenplay as a PDF, then go back into the editor and make changes… and typeset again…

Why that’s a deal breaker:  I continually swing back and forth between regretting my purchase of Celtx and being satisfied with the software. On one hand, $10 for a mobile app with 90% of the functionality of the desktop app isn’t a bad deal when you consider that most mobile versions of desktop software have major limitations. And it works flawlessly on my iPhone 4S and my old iPad 2. But typesetting requiring a round-trip to the desktop is a major buzzkill.

Then there’s the Scripts Pro iOS app, which I could have bought for roughly the same price as the Celtx app at the time, which apparently can email a perfectly formatted .pdf as well as output a .fdx and .celtx to Dropbox. That points out another limitation of Celtx mobile apps, they can only save to Celtx cloud storage… unless you count .txt or .pdf versions that aren’t properly formatted…

4. Will I Lose my Free Cloud Storage?: Since I’m not paying $9.99 per month for cloud storage, how long can I rely on my free Celtx storage?

Why that’s a deal breaker: I don’t want to lose my scripts, and I have no idea what the business model behind Celtx is anymore…

5. The Cetlx Business Model is Constantly Evolving: Way back when, Celtx offered its desktop software for free with paid online options to supplement the desktop software. Over time, this online option changed. The old online workspace was phased out in favor of the newer version. Apparently, Celtx is now on its third iteration of their cloud-based services. How long with the second iteration be available? And what happens if Celtx can’t find enough subscribers to keep it’s $9.99 / month service going? Will the whole service simply shut down?

Why that’s a deal breaker: Generally when a company makes a series of radical changes, it indicates instability.  When you’re dealing with creative properties stored in an online workspace, Murphy’s Law dictates that something will go wrong. And if it does… well, you’re kinda screwed…

So, what did I start using? I bought myself Final Draft 8 for Christmas. I got an incredible deal through an Amazon promotion, putting the purchase at just shy of $100. Plus, I got a free upgrade to Final Draft 9 a couple of weeks later. At that price point, making the switch to Final Draft was a no-brainer. Even without such a great price, my move away from Celtx was inevitable, either to Scrivner software that I already owned or to Fade-In Pro.

The first thing I noticed upon moving to Final Draft is how much nicer it is to work in an editor where the pages are properly typeset. This alone has enabled me to tighten my writing and significantly improve the pace of my screenwriting. That alone was worth making the move from Celtx.

So, what is my advice to those of you who are using Celtx? If it works, stay with it! There is nothing inherently wrong with the Celtx software or the company behind Celtx. They have active customer support on Twitter and seem genuinely interested in making the Celtx experience beneficial to indie productions. Version 2.9.7 offers much more functionality than I’ve ever used, and aside from the online typesetting, it’s a solid piece of offline software. If you’re working on an independent production or short film, a subscription to Celtx could be an easy, low-cost way of managing the production process without shelling out hundreds of dollars for big-name software. It’s still a very valuable resource all around.

However, if you want to experiment with other screenwriting options, then there’s the open-source project Trelby which promises to continue the original mission of Celtx as an open source screenwriting project. Since there’s no Mac version, I’ve never used Trelby, so I can’t say whether it’s good or bad. I do know that Trelby will save to the ever popular .fdx format.

There’s also Writer Duet, which offers the best screenwriting collaboration service I’ve ever used, allowing multiple authors to work on the same screenplay at the same time. Writer Duet’s interface reminds me of Final Draft, and it’s probably my favorite online screenwriting service hands-down.

Software doesn’t make the difference between a good screenplay and a bad screenplay. Only the writer can do that. But having the write software can make the writing process easier. Anyone reading this, best of luck in your screenwriting endeavors. And, if you’ll excuse me, I really should be writing something…