Using Celtx for Storyboarding

I’ve been writing for film since 1998, and been making my own films for about 2 years, having started shortly after I arrived here in Austin, Texas — which has a wonderful and supportive filmmaking community (e.g. Austin Film Meetup)

If you’ve never tried Celtx, I heartily suggest you download it right now and start using it… it’s free!

Not only is it free, it’s the most useful writing tool I’ve ever used… and I own Final Draft!!

But, that’s another post, another time.

Right now, I want to tell you how I got over the fact that I can’t even draw stick figures to save my life.

At some point a DP I was using, told me to draw stick figures…i tried… my wife’s first comment upon seeing them was… “what’s that?”

I knew at that point, drawing , even stick figures, just wasn’t for me@!


I had already been using Celtx for it’s ability to not only write a script, but also create character profiles, and tag your script with extras, props, wardrobe, etc. so, when Celtx came out with a Sketch tool… I was ecstatic, but in the very beginning, all you had were geometric shapes: squares, circles, arrows, lines. A while later, though, they came out with very affordable ClipArt packs, so, if you’re drawing-challenged like me, you can still produce shot maps or storyboards and not have people asking you “what’s that?”

Right now, you can get all their art packs for $10… 365 images to choose from: people, film gear, vehicles, etc.  So, whether you’re writing a drama, sci-fi or horror full length or short feature, Celtx has clip art for you to map out how you want to shoot, and to convey that clearly to your editor and DP and script supervisor.

The Sketch tool is still evolving, so if you’re expecting Photoshop tools, you’re not going to be happy. But, if you’re like me and don’t know how to use Photoshop, this is a very easy to learn tool.

Let’s say you want to represent an Over-The-Shoulder shot. What I do is take one of the figures marked (Back) and scale it up until it’s really big on the screen; then, I put a figure facing forward (marked ‘Front’), scale it up, but not as much, then I’ll send it to the bottom of the layers (the Sketch tool works as if each element is on a clear acetate sheet – the kind you use for overhead projectors – all layered on top of each other), so if you get proper overlap, and finally I draw a red rectangle around both images, to where I’d want the camera to be framed. For good measure I write “frame” as a label, in red, next to the box so there’s no confusion, and then I send the box to the bottom of the layers. Since boxes must have a colored fill (even if its to match the rest of the page and seem empty), if you don’t send it to the back, your figures will be behind this new box, and invisible.

I also use red arrows to show camera moves, and use black arrows to show character moves. To change the line color of the arrows you have to use the Fill Color button (the circle on the right).

My process is twofold… first I draw a blocking diagram with all the set pieces and actors, so I can see where to best put the least amount of cameras (aka setup) because each time you move the camera to a new setup, that takes time, especially if you’re using lights. More time setting up means less time to shoot, means it takes longer to shoot your film, means it costs you more money to do so.

The moral? The more pre-production work you do, the smoother things will go on set… and don’t skimp going to each location to plan the shots accordingly… some people even use stand-ins and use their phone or DSLR cameras to shoot the storyboard (which completely negates the need to storyboard with Sketch).

Then, once I’m happy with my blocking diagram and have put as few cameras setups as possible, I’ll take  that and work out my storyboard based on that blocking… Luckily Celtx has a Storyboard tool where you can either import the photos you took on location, use Sketch to draw each frame, or import graphics (JPGs, etc.) for use as frames/shots.

The Storyboarding tool maps to one of the scripts in your project file, giving you all the sequences with slugline (EXT. PARKING LOT – DAY) for easy reference.

Overall, I’ve been using Celtx since version 1, and I’ve even modified the cetlx.jar file to allow me more fields in character forms, etc. It’s still an evolving tool, and you can go on the Celtx forums to make known your desires… for example, a few of us have asked for some sort of a budgeting tool, and we got a response from the developers very quickly… can’t wait for the next version to come out.

Good luck on your filmmaking endeavors, and if you’re not using Celtx… start!

Val Gameiro