Sunday, July 13, 2008

Using Celtx

Now that was an interesting weekend.

My son, who will be 11 in August, is changing schools. As part of his end-of-Primary activities he wrote down a "things he wants to do" and the sweetheart put, among other things, "scriptwriter" like his dear old Dad. Perhaps he should have qualified it with "successful screenwriter".

His school did "Alice in Wonderland" as their end of year production, he got to be the 5 of Hearts but that's another story. Their "big writing" for the end of the year had to be something based on "Alice".

The boy decided he would write a movie script. Of course being an 11 year old boy what he likes are guns and action. There's not a lot of that in Wonderland but there's nothing wrong with his imagination and he soon melded an action plot with a classic children's tale, involving the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, world domination, monsters and an ex-soldier. Cool.

So I proceeded to do a script consultation with my son. Script consultancy = "Help the writer find the story."

Naturally his initial ideas were way too big for 10 pages. There was a rather fraught period as he got upset with having to cut back his ideas. So I told him to be a professional and just do it. (I can be so mean.) And he did.

He came back with a compromise that simplified the plot, drew together certain bits that, in his original version, had been separate. And, of course, it was much improved. And he was once again happy. I had him outline the main scenes - just a note about what each of them was, a few words to describe them. Then I had him go through each one and find the conflict. He already understood that conflict could be emotional as well as physical - he explained it to me.

I have to say he's seems like a natural. Point him in the right direction, say go ... and he went.

Then I introduced him to Celtx. Both my wife and I are highly experienced techies, we have computers the way other people have TVs. If nothing else our children are highly computer literate. Still I wasn't entirely sure if he could handle it.

I gave him a quick demonstration, explained about sluglines, characters and dialogue (I told him to ignore parentheticals), how they were used and how Celtx automatically moved from one to another.

Then I left him to it. No problem, he had the first scene sorted within half an hour.

What really got me was that he was asking me all the right questions. I loved it when he said "Is a helicopter INT or EXT?" Brilliant. On dialogue he called me over to ask "How do I make this less corny?" Fantastic. I'd already covered the concept of starting a scene as late as possible and getting out as quick as possible. He'd absorbed that as well.

So, after about 5 hours he had his script. Poor kid. His parents are both editors. And he got the red pen treatment, but he's used to it. We always explain it's not personal and how everyone needs an editor.

Was it a good script? Well, for an 11 year old who'd never written a film script in his life before it was amazing. I am biased, but not that biased. (Another thing our poor kids have to put up with, parents without rose-tinted glasses.) But frankly I was proud, he did quite a job - and the dialogue was funny in places, deliberate humour.

Of course, now I'm concerned. My 17 year old daughter got her fiction work published in real books (when she was 14) before I did (I haven't yet). I now face the horrible prospect that my son might get scripts produced before me.

In fact he was so impressed by the full feature set of Celtx (all the production tools) it wouldn't surprise me if he made them himself. Maybe I'll have to ask him for a writing gig.

Oh yes, and about the parentheticals I told him to ignore. I did tell him when to use them, and he did! Just the once. Little rat.

What's on the turntable? "Teo Torriatte" by Queen from "A Day at the Races"

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