I’ve long been involved with the development of Celtx, the creative writing and pre-production software platform. My first encounter with it in a fledgling form many years ago lead me to the conclusion that it held the potential to be the most forward-thinking and holistic approach in the industry and over the years I’ve been able to take part in Celtx growing to fulfil that promise.
Where numerous other creative software tools aim to fulfil various parts of the development and pre-production process, Celtx really is quite alone in it’s integrated approach; and its an approach that speaks directly to a philosophy of creative media production. Cinema is Technology and the tasks undertaken to write or conceive a screen experience cannot be separated from the mechanics or the apparatus of the screen - the technologies of image acquisition, production and delivery. Another way to think of this is to understand that WHAT we make is HOW we make; the process of creative endeavour shapes the outcome just as profoundly as original conceptualisation.
This is the philosophy that has long underpinned my approach to screen production, screenwriting and screen studies. And it is the self same concept that is deeply embedded in Celtx.
The rise of mobile devices have, of course, opened up further creative opportunities for screen media creators and, likewise, the mobile device enables new tools to facilitate production. Celtx has adapted quickly to this space and Celtx Script is currently the most comprehensive and full-featured screenwriting app for iPhone and iPad. The mobile version sits along side the comprehensive, and free, desktop software and both are integrated with the Celtx Studios, online hosting and collaboration system.
What Celtx have now added to this suite is Celtx Shots and it very precisely demonstrates that integrated process approach. Shots is ostensibly a Storyboarding application that allows you to mange, annotate, order and sequence storyboard images and playback storyboard sequences as simple animatics. Even at this level it’s an incredibly effective app for your iPad. But just as a screenplay is not a movie, a storyboard is not a production plan. I’ve seen to many inexperienced filmmakers rely too heavily on storyboards and shot-lists only to be let down by the divide the Storyboard, on its own, imposes between the creative outcome and the creative process. In simple terms the Storyboard - through framed cells mimicking the screen as seen by the audience - is a depiction of a Result, not the articulation of a Plan on how to achieve that Result. In many ways what is far more useful to all creative parties is the camera and shooting plan, just as an engineer finds far more value in blueprints that architectural renderings.
Celtx Shots handles both in a single integrated way. Storyboard images can be arranged, annotated, sequenced and, along-side these cells, creators can shape top-down and elevation plans from vector clip-art graphics.
Celtx Shots taks its functionality from the desktop Celtx which has long had conjoined camera planning and storyboard tools. However the touch interface of a tablet device like the iPad makes the good ol’ mouse feel positively lame for these tasks. Moving, rotating and scaling is a piece o’ cake with two fingers. Producing and, more importantly, experimenting with camera plans is so fast and easy that doing it on the fly, on set or location scouting, is more than feasible.
Graphic packs for Celtx Shots include a range of common gear such as redheads, LED panels, dollys and dolly tracks, china-balls, tripods and so on. As well as a range of top-down and profile avatars and human figures. Annotation tools such as text, arrows, blocking and camer movement indicators round out the tool kit you’ll need to fully articulate a plan to to turn storyboard ideas into on screen realities.
What this kind of planning brings to the creative table is more than just production efficiency and pragmatism. One of the great criticisms I’ve had of cinema over the past decade (not just at the independent end but also at the high end) is the lost art of Staging. It seems our attraction to shallow depth-of-field and rack-focus has become an obsession to the point where too often it is treated not as the Effect or special Stylistic Choice it is, but somehow a default technique, a visual norm that should be used universally (yes all your DSLR evangelists im looking in your direction). I’ve written about this many times before so shall spare the rhetoric here, suffice to say that the most powerful tool a filmmaker has at their disposal is not light or lens, focus or blur, but SPACE itself. The history of great cinema is a history of great use of Space and deft exploitation of Spatial Dynamics. Putting emphasis on the camera planning and blocking tools in Celtx Shots, reframes that emphasis on spatial articulation; of shaping meaning and drama by where characters are in space not by how much blur you can put in the space behind them.
One of the concerns ive always had with many other pre-vis software tools is their complexity. To me the very point of pre-vis is experimentation, trial and error, lateral thinking. None of these things can be released or embraced if the process for crafting a pre-vis depiction takes longer than shooting the actual shot. The great beauty and creative strength of Celtx Shots is not the complexity of its toolset, but rather the simplicity of their deployment. There can be no doubt that a better creative end result will always be achieved if you have the freedom to explore, quickly and efficiently, the widest range of possibilities. In many ways creativity comes from disposability - the more free you are to dispose of your creative ideas, the greater the opportunity to find the wheat amongst the chaff - the good form the bad.
The traditional Storyboard shows the result of the Plan. The Plan shows how to achieve the result. And in best practice the two have informed each other - the final cinematic image a negotiation of forces between the desired result and the process of crafting it. Celtx Shots is a beautifully effective tool for unifying that simple creative process.
You can get Celtx Shots from the App Store and further info at www.celtx.com