Saturday, November 12, 2011

The feature film SAKI made possible with CELTX software and an overview of the newly released iPad app CELTX Shots

The feature film SAKI is a thriller I wrote about a Japanese woman exiled to America and finding her place as an art teacher to prison convicts. When her grandfather visits from Japan, all kinds of trouble follows in the form of the Japanese Mafia, the Yakuza, and Saki must find the strength to stem the tides through her one focus, her art.

Visit and "Like" our SAKI Facebook Page

SAKI was completely developed, written, and even broken down for production in the free software CELTX. When I contacted the folks at CELTX to gushed about my positive experiences with their software, they allowed me to preview their new iPad software called CELTX Shots which enables you to both storyboard and block scenes from scripts written in CELTX. The desktop version of CELTX allows you to do this but with the iPad app, these tasks can be done on the go or on location. But more on that later!

Prior to writing SAKI I had written all my scripts in the software Final Draft, but I ran into some limitations in both using the program to develop my plot and in combining English and Japanese dialogue. This was also right about the time I was moving my students (I teach scriptwriting at an international film school called ISMP in Torrance, CA) to CELTX because Final Draft licenses were prohibitively expensive. Despite the glut and massive scale of Hollywood movie productions these days, scriptwriting should be as simple and economical as writing words on a page or typing sentences on a screen. CELTX was the answer for my students and suddenly it became the answer for me because it offered all the scriptwriting tools of Final Draft plus a better way to organize my thoughts. And then CELTX takes it a step further by allowing you to break down your script, storyboard shots, and even create floor plans for lighting and blocking. For the average scriptwriter these tools may not be necessary but for the average filmmaker, and especially an indie filmmaker, having all these tools in one box is a godsend. I should also mention that CELTX is available in a number of different languages (including Japanese) and across multiple platforms including Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. An iPad app is also available with (hopefully) an Android app on the way. Believe it or not, with the exception of Linux, I use CELTX on ALL these platforms.

CELTX desktop script writing software with the ability to do storyboarding and set blocking.

I won't get into the details of the CELTX software but for SAKI the one writing tool that I found invaluable was the index card view. The default index card view is similar to the one in Final Draft but for less than $5 you can upgrade CELTX to the "Plot View" mode which allow you to view index cards on a linear timeline from left to right, organizing them by color and position according to the various plots that run through your script. SAKI was developed with four main plot lines that were weaved through the script:

- The thematic plot (Art and Death), represented by grey index cards.
- Saki's character plot, represented by blue index cards.
- Shin's (Saki's grandfather) character plot, represented by green index cards.
- Ben's (Saki's lover) character plot, represented by yellow index cards.

Index card view of my 4 plot lines based on theme and the
3 main characters in SAKI, each represented by a different color.

CELTX "Plot View" of the various plot lines of SAKI weaved into scenes of a feature script outline. 

Once I determined the arc of each character I reorganized them into scenes that contained the appropriate interactions and plot twists that propelled the story forward. This essentially became my outline for the first draft of the script with the color coding and index card plot view allowing me to visualize the pacing of my script. Up to this point it's all fun and games but it makes the actual writing of the script (the real work) less painful and more focused but with the flexibility to improvise and shift things around. SAKI was written in about one month (this includes development and writing). From there the script was translated into Japanese. The final shooting script and script breakdown was primarily in English with Japanese dialogue (Final Draft is not able to display Japanese text).

While SAKI was in production CELTX released their iPad app which allows you to sync scripts from your desktop to your iPad. The app is now in heavy use for the development of SAKI 2 and the prequel SAKI ZERO. I still prefer to do the heavy writing on a laptop but I'll use my iPad to read what I've written and make minor revisions. And now CELTX has released their latest app called CELTX Shots which allows you to storyboard and block script action on your iPad which I find extremely useful during rehearsals or on a location scout. Had this application been available during the production of SAKI, it would have been invaluable because I not only wrote SAKI but served as the Cinematographer and Visual Effects Supervisor as well.

Here is a sample of the original storyboards I did for SAKI, scene 1 (the old fashion way with pencil and paper):

SAKI scene 1 storyboards.

And these were the blocking notes I made for scene 1:

SAKI scene 1 blocking.

My hand drawings and writings served their purpose but I was walking around with a huge binder full of script notes, storyboards, blocking diagrams, etc. for upwards of 70 scenes! In general, I would go through the paces of creating storyboards and floor plans but when it came to production, I would leave my binder behind and rely on memory - when you're on a low budget film there is no time to be thumbing through hundreds of pages of notes.

SAKI 1 ton production binder.
With CELTX Shots a majority of my production binder could havebeen neatly packaged in my iPad for portability and interactivity. The key word here is "interactivity" because I did happen to have my storyboards and blocking scanned as PDFs on my iPad during the SAKI production and while it was lighter than my binder, it wasn't any easier to access the pages and I couldn't make any modifications to the blocking diagrams if I needed to. So often I referred back to my big'ol binder to create new diagrams or jot down notes during rehearsals.

SAKI scene 1 storyboards and blocking recreated with CELTX Shots on an iPad 2.

SAKI scene 1 floor plan for lighting and blocking recreated with CELTX Shots on an iPad 2.

With CELTX Shots you can choose to import scenes via scripts that you are syncing with your CELTX iPad software or import CELTX files directly through iTunes (note that if you go through iTunes the CELTX file must already have a storyboard associated to a script in the file). I prefer the latter because it also imports your full script that you can view with your storyboards (for some reason when you use a synced script you only get the scenes but not your complete script). At the press of a button your storyboard images will flip up to reveal your script (the page flip animations are a nice aesthetic touch). To play around with the app I imported the original pencil storyboards for SAKI and combined them with the shooting script, essentially recreating my production binder for scene 1.

Storyboard view where you can do minor adjustments to the image like rotate or flop.

In CELTX Shots you can reference your script while working with your storyboards and blocking.

For the storyboards you can choose to import a drawing or photo from your iPad's photo gallery or you can opt to take a photo directly from the iPad 2's camera. Once you have an image in the app you can do basic manipulations like rotate and flop. Imagine combining CELTX Shots with viewfinder apps like Panavision's Panascout or Artemis Director's Viewfinder where you find your shot and snap a photo with all manner of relevant data like aspect ratio, lens size, GPS coordinates, viewing angle, etc. Importing these photos into CELTX Shots, you can actively organize your shots in sequential order or by shooting order and then accompany each shot with a diagram of the staging. CELTX Shots also allows you to playback your storyboards as a full screen slide show.

CELTX Shots used in combination with Artemis Director's Viewfinder.

As an active Director of Photography floor plans are vital in selling directors and clients on lighting schemes and camera positions. These floor plans also allow you to visualize potential problems and determine the logical progression of setups. In CELTX Shots you can assemble a floor plan or blocking by selecting from a number of preset graphics that represent anything from actors to cameras to lights to even dolly track and transportation vehicles. There are also arrows and tools to create basic shapes like squares and circles and lines. All of these graphical icons are manipulable where you can pinch to scale or rotate and, of course, drag them into any position. For the basic shapes you can also assign different colored outlines and fills. Text can also be added but it seems like once you place the text you can't change the text (other than scale, rotate, and move it). It would be nice to be able to import custom graphics or photo elements  but CELTX does offer additional graphic packs for a small fee. But the included graphic sets cover most of what you would need to create meaningful floor plans.

A still from the feature film SAKI brought into CELTX Shots.

An actual lighting plan for the feature film SAKI recreated in CELTX Shots.

Event lighting floor plan created in CELTX Shots.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any copy and paste functionality in the iPad app which is useful when you are creating multiple versions of the same floor plan. This is alleviated if you begin your floor plan on your iPad and then export it to iTunes. You can then open the CELTX file in the desktop version of the software and freely copy and paste your floor plans into new shots. There are a few caveats though. When I export from my iPad to my desktop and then re-import the CELTX file back onto my iPad, I lose the ability to view my full script (this might be a bug that needs to be ironed out). Also, some text that I inserted through my desktop software did not display properly when playing the floor plans through the CETX Shots slide show view (although the text show up when I edit the floor plan). None of these issues impede the over-all functionality but seem to be quirks in the import/export work flow.

While you can export individual storyboard images and floor plans to your photo gallery and e-mail, there is no way to consolidate all your shots into a PDF document. Again this can be alleviated by exporting to the desktop version of the software to create a PDF set of your shots but it would be nice to to do this on the go directly from your iPad to e-mail to others.

All said and done, CELTX Shots is a great tool for film making. It allows you to initiate the planning process and interactively draft a plan of attack for production. It remains to be seen if the app will hold out for the marathon of a feature film production, but if the CELTX scriptwriting software is any indication of how CELTX Shots will perform, then I'm confident that this app will keep up with the pre-production rigors I'll demand from it. In fact, I'm already putting it through it's paces and it continually impresses me - it also brings a little fun back to the grueling task of planning a feature which makes a big difference in the long run.

Don't forget to check out our High Definition theatrical release of SAKI coming in December: Fri (12/9), Sat (12/10), Sun (12/11)! Click the links below for the Facebook event pages. 

And please "Like" our SAKI Facebook Page:

SAKI: a Japanese feature film thriller about a woman exiled to America - teaching art to a band of reformed criminals. But when her grandfather visits from Japan, a Yakuza hell follows and Saki must find the strength to fight back in the demons of her artistic expression.

SAKI Theatrical Screenings:

Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:30am
Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 11:30am
Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles, CA

Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 11:30am
Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles, CA

And last but certainly not least, check out CELTX scriptwriting software, their iPad CELTX scriptwriting app, and their new iPad CELTX Shots app:

Celtx is free, all-in-one pre-production software used by 1,500,000 media creators in 170 countries working in 34 different languages.
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Read reviews, get customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about Celtx Script on the App Store. Download Celtx Script and enjoy it on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Read reviews, get customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about Celtx Shots on the App Store. Download Celtx Shots and enjoy it on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.


robin green said...

Hi, may i ask you how to obtain the "plot view", with the cork design? i don't see anything like that i nmy version of celtx

SKYguy76 said...

Unfortunately things have changed since I wrote this article. Celtx no longer supports their desktop app (they seemed focused on their online studio app with monthly/annual subscriptions) which is a shame. The Plot View was an add-on that was purchased separately and installed through their "Tools" menu but it seems they no longer honor the purchase so therefore I can no longer install it. The desktop app still works but without support it's days are numbered and since my favorite feature in Plot View is gone if I try and install it on my new computer, it's time for me to move on. I'm currently transitioning to WriterDuet and also learning to write in Fountain script. But for plot outlining I currently use Simplemind which is a cross platform flowchart tool - it's great for visualizing a script plot.

robin green said...

i see, but then why not try to find and use this old version, and not update. do you rememeber what version it was?

SKYguy76 said...

CeltXPlus 2.9.7 (Mac) – For screenwriters

CeltXSetup 2.9.7 (PC) – For screenwriters