Visualizing Productions Ahead of Time with Celtx


Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginner's Guide

Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginner's Guide

Write and market Hollywood-perfect movie scripts the free way!

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(For more resources on Celtx, see here.)

If you just write scripts, you won't need the features in this article. However, Indie (independent) producers, folks actually making movies, putting together audio visual shows, or creating documentaries will find these tools of immense value and here we look at visualizing all this good stuff (pun, as ever, intended).


Celtx's Sketch Tool allows us to easily visualize ideas and shot setups by adding our drawings of them to projects. Sketches can be separate items in the Project Library (or in folders within the library) or added to a project's Storyboard (more on that in the next section of this article).

The Sketch Tool comes with pre-loaded icons for people, cameras, and lights, which we can drag and drop into our sketches, making them look more polished. The icons are SVG images (Scalable Vector Graphics), which allow us to make them as large as we like without losing any quality in the image. The site makes additional icons available (Art Packs) at low costs (example: $2.99 for 23 icons).

Also provided in the Sketch tool are tools for drawing lines, arrows, shapes, and for adding text labels. Just to avoid confusion, let me tell you that there is nothing like pens or erasers or other free drawing features. We'll use various drag-and-drop icons and any of us, artistic talent or not, can turn out very professional-looking storyboards in no time at all.

Celtx Projects are containers which hold items such as scripts, index cards, reports, schedules, storyboards, prop lists, and more including sketches.

Time for action - starting a new sketch

We have two ways of creating a new Sketch, which are as follows:

  1. First, open a project (new or already in progress) and look in the Project Library in the upper-left quadrant of the Celtx screen. Sketch is included by default, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  2. The following steps show the second method for creating a new sketch:
    • Click on File at the very upper-left of the Celtx main window
    • On the drop-down menu, choose Add Item...
    • Click on Sketch and then click on OK, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

What just happened?

The new Sketch is added to the Project Library window. If one was already there (likely since it is by default), you now have two with the same name. No problem; simply right-click on one of them, choose Rename, and change its name. We can also delete or duplicate a Sketch this way.

To open the main Sketch Tool window from anywhere in a Celtx project, double-click on the name of the Sketch in the Project Library.

In the case of a new Sketch created through the Add Item dialog box, as shown in the preceding section, it will already be open and ready for use. That is, the main window covering most of the center of the Celtx screen is where we sketch. Double-clicking on Screenplay or any other item in the Project Library window navigates us to that item and away from our Sketch. It is saved automatically.

The following screenshot shows how the Sketch Tool looks when opened:

Sketch Tool toolbar

Along the top of the middle window (the Sketch Tool window), we have a toolbar. In the preceding screenshot, most of these tools are grayed out. They become fully visible when conditions are met for their use.

Let's take a tour. The following screenshot shows the sketch toolbar in its entirety:

Celtx tutorials

Now, let's explore these tools individually and see what they do. In addition to the tool bar (shown in the preceding screenshot), I'll include an image of each individual tool as well:

  • Select tool: The first tool from the left is for selecting items in the sketch. There's nothing to select yet, so let's click on the second tool from the left. The select tool is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  • The diagonal line: It is the second tool from the left and it draws a line. Move the cursor (now a cross) to the point where the line begins, hold down the left mouse button, and drag out the line, releasing the mouse button at its ending point. The diagonal line is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  • Line tool: Click on the first tool above. The mouse cursor becomes a hollow arrow on a PC but remains a black arrow on the Mac. Select the line we drew by clicking on it (a little hard for a line) or holding down the left mouse button and drawing a box all the way around the line (easier). When the mouse button is released, we know the line is selected because it has a dotted blue line around it and two small gray circles or "handles" at either end. Once the item is selected, just hold down the left mouse button and it can be moved anywhere in the Sketch Tool window.

    Select either of the handles by moving the cursor arrow over it and pressing the left mouse button. We can now move that end of the line all over the place and it stays wherever the button is released; it's the same for the other end of the line.

    While the line is selected, just hit the Delete key to erase it. This also works in the same way for all the other elements.

  • Arrow Tool: The third tool from the left (the diagonal arrow) works exactly like the line tool, except there's an arrowhead on one end. It's a useful drawing tool for pointing to something in our diagrams or using as a spear if it's that kind of movie, eh? The arrow tool is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  • Box and Circle Tools: The fourth tool (the box) draws a box or rectangle and the fifth (the circle) a circle or oval. Clicking on the select tool (the first tool on the left) and using its cursor to click inside of a square or circle selects it. There are two little gray circles which allow us to manipulate the figure just as we did with the line above. The box tool is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    And the circle tool is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  • Text Tool: Suppose we want to label a line, arrow, box, or circle, we can use the sixth tool, that is, the little letter "A", which is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    Draw a box and click on the A. The mouse cursor is now an "I-beam". Click in the box. A mini-dialog box appears, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    This Edit Text box allows the selection of the font, size, bold, italic, and provides a place to type in the label, such as the stirring This is a box. Click on OK and the label is in the box, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    If we need to edit an existing label, click on the select tool, double-click on the text, the Edit Text mini-dialog box comes up, and you can edit the text.

    Keeping the labeled box as an example, we're ready to visit the next two tools, namely, the empty circle and his brother the solid circle, both of which are grayed out at the moment. Let's wake them up.

  • Stroke and Fill Tools: Click on the select tool and then click inside the box. These two tools turn blue and allow us access to them. These are shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    The empty circle controls the color of the stroke (that's the outline of the item, such as our box) and the solid circle, the fill (the inside color of the item). Note that there is a small arrow on the right side of each circle. Click on the one next to the solid (fill) circle. A color selection box drops down; choose a color by clicking on it. The box now has that color inside it as a fill, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    If you want to change the stroke and/or fill colors, just click on the stroke or fill tool to drop-down the selection box again.

    Moving on, add another box (or circle, whatever) and move it. Use the select tool, hold down the Shift key, click on the new box, and move it over the original box.

  • Layer Tools: Okay, we now have one item on top of another. Sometimes that's inconvenient in a scene diagram and we need to reverse the order (move one or more items up a layer or more). With the top box selected, look at the toolbar. The next four icons to the right of the stroke and fill circles are now "lit up" (no longer grayed out). The layer tools are shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    These are, in the order, lower to bottom, lower, raise, and raise to top. In other words, the selected box would be lowered to the bottom-most layer, lowered one layer, raised one layer, or jumped all the way to the top-most layer.

    Celtx tutorials

  • Group and Ungroup: Now, to save a few million electrons, let's use the same two boxes again. Select the one on top, hold down the Shift key, and both boxes are now selected. We can move them together, for example. However, note that the next icon to the right is now no longer gray (it's now two blue boxes, one over the other and four smaller black ones). This is the group tool, which is shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    Clicking on it groups or bonds the selected items together. This, of course, lights up the next icon on the toolbar, the (wait for it) ungroup tool, which restores independence to grouped items.

  • Undo and Redo Tools: The next two toolbar icons, the curved arrows, are undo and redo tools. They reverse an action to the previous state or restore an item to its next state (if there is one, that is, "undo" and "redo"). These tools are shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

  • Cut, Copy, and Paste Tools: The last three tools on the Sketch Tool window toolbar are the cut, copy, and paste tools, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Celtx tutorials

    Cutting removes an item but retains it on the clipboard, copying leaves the item and also puts a copy of it on the clipboard, while paste puts the item from the clipboard back into the sketch.

Now, we come to the fun part, icons! As in "yes, icon do a professional-looking sketch." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Icons for a professional look

Celtx provides icons, giving our sketches a polished professional look (neat, artistic, follows industry entertainment conventions) while requiring little or no artistic ability. The Palettes windows, found on the right side of the main Sketch Tool window, list available icons.

The default installation of Celtx includes a very limited number of icons, one camera, two kinds of lights, and a top-down view of a man and a woman. Celtx, of course, is open source software and thus free (a price I can afford). However, one of the ways in which its sponsoring developer, a Canadian company, Greyfirst Corp. in St. John's, Newfoundland, makes money is by selling add-ons to the program, one type being additional icons in the form of Art Packs. In the following screenshot, if we click on the + Get Art Packs link, a webpage opens where one can order Art Packs and other add-ons at quite reasonable prices:

Celtx tutorials

Now, to use an icon in a sketch, let's start with the camera. Open a new sketch by doubleclicking on Sketch in the Project Library window or Add Item from the main File menu. In the Palettes window, move the mouse cursor over Camera and hold down the left mouse button while dragging the camera icon into the main Sketch Tool window. It looks like the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

Manipulating icons: When any icon is dragged into the main window of the Sketch Tool (and anytime that icon is selected by clicking on it with the select tool cursor described earlier) it has a dotted circle around it (as shown in the preceding screenshot) and two small solid circles (violet on top, olive below). Clicking on the violet circle and holding down the left mouse button while dragging allows rotation of the icon. Releasing the button stops rotation and leaves the icon in that orientation.

Clicking on the olive circle (the lower one) and holding down the left mouse button and dragging allow resizing the icon, either larger or smaller. As these icons, like the lines, arrows, boxes, and circles we discussed earlier in this article are also SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), we can have them as large as desired with no pixilation or other distortion.

Using the Sketch Tool toolbar and the supplied icons, we can rapidly and easily draw professional looking diagrams like the scene shown in the following screenshot, which shows two lights, the camera, the talent, arrows showing their movement in the scene, and the props:

Celtx tutorials

Again, additional icons may be purchased from the website. For example, the following screenshot shows the twenty-three icons available in Art Pack 1:

Celtx tutorials

Saving a finished Sketch

Now is a good time for us to take a moment and discuss the limitations of the Sketch Tool. This feature provides a fast way of whipping up a scene diagram from inside a Celtx project. It does not replace an outside drawing program nor give us the functionality of something like Adobe Illustrator, but it is quite powerful and very handy. By the way, we can use external media files in Celtx and we'll do just that in both of the remaining sections of this article.

Another limitation concerns saving sketches. There's no way of exporting the sketch as an external image such as .jpg or .bmp. In fact, even saving within the Celtx project is automated. Do the following to see what I mean:

  1. In a Celtx project, double-click on Sketch in the Project Library to start a sketch.
  2. Draw something.
  3. Double-click on Screenplay. Then double-click on Sketch. The drawing is still there.
  4. Save the Celtx project, exit, and open it again. Double-click on Sketch. Drawing's still there!

We can even use Add Item from the File menu (a shortcut is the little plus symbol beneath the Project Library title) and add another Sketch (same name) to the Project Library and even draw a new sketch in it. Of course, having different drawings with the same name is hardly utilitarian, so here's how we really save a sketch.

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(For more resources on Celtx, see here.)

Time for action – saving and organizing Sketches

Carry out the following steps to rename a Sketch:

  1. Right-click on Sketch.
  2. On the drop-down menu, left-click on Rename....
  3. Name the drawing something unique and descriptive, such as Scene 5.

We can accumulate all our sketches in the Project Library window, but for a long project that can really get cluttered. We can "neaten" things up by creating folders and grouping sketches (or anything else). To do that, carry out the following steps:

  1. Right-click on Sketch.
  2. Left-click on the little file folder icon just below the Project Library title. In the Add Folder... mini dialog box (see the following screenshot), give the new folder (or subdirectory) a name, and then click on OK.

    Celtx tutorials

  3. When the folder appears in the Project Directory window, we can simply select (individually or in groups) sketches and drag-and-drop them into the folder.

What just happened?

Using folders, we organized sketches (made them easier to find again) and reduced clutter by having less items in the main Project Library window.


The Sketch Tool is indeed useful, but Celtx provides an even more powerful way of visualizing scenes. Let's look at storyboarding now.

Storyboards are a series of illustrations (sketches) and images shown in sequence to previsualize (graphically plan) a motion picture, animation, documentary, interactive website, or any other type of the many productions that can be scripted in Celtx. Essentially, like a large comic (as in a comic book) of the film, storyboards help directors, cinematographers, or videographers (people who run the cameras), clients, or anyone one else involved in a project, visualize the scenes and find potential problems ahead of time.

Even if we are only writing a spec script, it helps us describe how the plot plays out if we have a series of visualizations, namely, a Storyboard.

The storyboard format, which is widely used today and incorporated into Celtx, was first developed at the Walt Disney studios in the 1930s. One of the first major feature films to be storyboarded was the classic Gone with the Wind in 1939. Storyboarding is important and helpful in the creative process. Instead of pinning drawings all over the walls, like the first storyboards, Celtx lets us do it right inside our project.

Time for action – storyboarding

Let's dive right in to storyboarding. On the Splash dialog box that appears when we open Celtx, there's a list of recent projects, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

Click on Samples in the upper-right corner and we now have a list of several sample projects, which come included in Celtx when it's downloaded and installed. Double-click on the top one, the complete script of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

As shown in the following screenshot, the Storyboard screen depicts a drawing of each shot:

Celtx tutorials

In Scene 1 of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we find 19 different shots, each with a drawing showing its setup. I'll show you how to get drawings and photographs placed on a Storyboard in just a moment. First, we'll examine the parts of a shot (one camera setup, there often are several per scene).

Look at the first shot on the preceding screenshot. By default, it is numbered as shot 1.1 because it's the first scene. The second shot in that scene is 1.2, the third 1.3, and so forth. Scene 2's shots are 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, and so on.

Each shot has the following four items:

  1. The type of shot such as VERY WIDE SHOT, MEDIUM, OVER THE SHOULDER, and so on. Clicking on the arrow button next to VERY WIDE SHOT, as shown in scene 1 and a drop-down menu in the preceding screenshot, gives us the choice of eighteen standard shots. If a special shot not on that list is needed, simply note that fact in the following text entry box.
  2. The Description entry box allows notes about the shot to be entered.
  3. The Add Image box lets us insert scanned drawings (the ones in this Storyboard come from simple .jpg files).
  4. And finally, the Add Sketch box. Remember sketches? Yep, we just learned about those, now we'll see how to get them into our Storyboards.

What just happened?

We found out that Storyboards boil down to being no more than a series of drawings serving as a shorthand dry run of our projects and, also, an easy way to interest and wow investors or other types of clients. Storyboards are a great tool.

Storyboard controls

The tools to create our storyboards, as in all Celtx projects, live along the top of the main section of the screen. The following screenshot presents a closer view:

Celtx tutorials

We'll look at Add Sequence first. A sequence here is simply a series of one or more shots, basically a scene. If we're doing a comic book, the shots would be pages. And, yes, while it may surprise some, comics lend themselves to storyboarding quite well, allowing us to determine the placement of balloons, characters, and play around with the overall look and story before committing lines to paper in drawing the comic pages.

So, clicking on Add Sequence adds a blank but numbered scene. We fill in the title of the new scene and the other components such as drawings, photos, other media files, and sketches.

Now, here's a neat feature, speaking of wowing someone. After our storyboard is done, we can play it as an automatic slide show by clicking on the Play button, which brings up a flash player, similar to the one shown in the following screenshot. Experiment with that. Movement gives a sense of how the completed movie or any other project will play out.

Celtx tutorials

Going back to our storyboard toolbar, the next three buttons—the three bars, two bars, and single block buttons—cause the shots to be displayed three across, two across, or just one per line. The buttons look like the following screenshot and, again, are found at the top of the main storyboard window.

Celtx tutorials

The Show Both drop-down menu displays both media files and sketches, or we can opt to Show Images or Show Sketches.

Okay, drop down to the scene title line. Each scene title has a Delete button on the far right which allows deletion of the scene, including all shots in it. Be careful.

In the window that has the shots for each scene, at the bottom-far right we have an Add Shot button. This, not surprisingly, adds a new blank shot behind the last shot in the scene.

To delete a shot (if the sequence has two or more), click on the shot to select it and then click on the X icon at the top right of the shot and it will go away, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

Generating scenes automatically

If we already have a completed script or even one in progress, there's no need to manually create scenes for our Storyboard. Simply use the Add Item feature (remember the little + symbol shortcut under the Project Library window title) from inside your script project, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

After selecting Storyboard from the preceding screenshot and then clicking on OK, we get the following screenshot:

An even easier shortcut is that big blue Add button, just under File on the extreme upper-left of the Celtx screen.

Be sure that you associate the new Storyboard item with your script using the drop-down menu labeled Script: at the bottom of the Add Item dialog box.

Celtx generates a Storyboard that has all our scenes already in place (such as the one above my script Portals. All we need to do now is add shots, media files, and/or Sketches.

Now, let's have a look at the window at the bottom-left of the screen, namely, the one below the Project Library window. When we're in a script window (such as Screenplay), this window is labeled Scenes. We can move scenes around, delete them, copy them, and/or send them to the Scratchpad.

On the Storyboard screen, this block is labeled Sequences and shows each sequence in our Storyboard. Like in the Scenes block, we can move the sequences around, shuffling their order as we like in order to look at different ways of structuring our production. Here's how the Sequences window looks:

Celtx tutorials

We can use this block as a navigation aid. Clicking once selects the sequence or individual shot. Double-clicking takes us to it on the screen.

There are two major differences we need to be aware of. First, you can't delete or send Storyboard sequences to the Scratchpad. (You can delete a sequence by using the Delete button on the sequence title line in the storyboard window.) And most importantly, changing the order of the sequences does not change the order of scenes in the script, nor vice versa. This is so we can experiment in the Storyboard without messing up our script.

Adding Sketches to a Storyboard

In the section on Sketches, I did one of scene five; Bobby meets Elaine in the offices of Galactic Transport. Bobby comes through the door and Elaine gets up and comes around her desk to fondly greet him. That sketch is still in the Project Library, labeled as Scene 5.

To get the Sketch (or any Sketch) into our storyboard, refer to the following section.

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(For more resources on Celtx, see here.)

Time for action – moving a Sketch to a Storyboard

  1. Open the Sketch to be moved by double-clicking on it in the Project Library window.
  2. Use the select tool and draw around everything in the Sketch. Every item will now have blue dotted lines around it.
  3. Click on the Edit menu at the very top left of the Celtx screen and then click on Copy, or just type Ctrl+C.
  4. Double click on Storyboard in the Project Library window.
  5. Click in the Add Sketch box in Scene 5 of the Storyboard; it opens a blank Sketch screen just like the one we just copied from.
  6. Do it the easy way, press Ctrl+V to paste the sketch. Return to the Storyboard view and it's there!

Double-click on Sketches embedded in storyboards to open a Sketch Tool window and see them at full size again. To delete a Sketch, click on the small X icon next to the image (it shows up in the two and three wide views).

What just happened?

We just learned how to insert our Sketches into a Storyboard.

Adding image files to a Storyboard

The Add Image box in shots, as we saw in the Oz Storyboard, lets us add drawings or (as follows) even photographs. Standard .jpg or .bmp files work fine.

Click in the Add Image box to bring up an Add Media dialog box (shown in the next screenshot). Basically, if we can see it, we can add it. The Storyboard is restricted to images but, coming up in the last section in this article, we'll play with adding video and audio files as well. As an example, the following screenshot shows the directory in which I am accumulating images for this article:

Celtx tutorials

To delete an image, click on the small X icon next to the image in the Storyboard.

Nor are we limited to inserting just one image at a time. In the Add Media dialog box (get it by clicking on Add Image in any shot on the Storyboard), we can select a series of images by holding the Shift key or a bunch of individual ones (separated list) by holding down the Ctrl key, as shown in the following screenshot:

The selected files are batch imported as shots, numbered, and the title of the image put in the description box, as shown in the following screenshot:

We can now title them and add sketches, if needed. This group of pictures, by the way, is from a series of documentary films that my wife, Pat, and I produce and sell on as "Waterfalls of the Southern Highlands." Where we live, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, there are literally hundreds of waterfalls within a forty-mile radius of our house. We've done over a hundred but are just getting started good. Celtx is already helping me in Storyboarding and writing documentary scripts for these and the other series we produce.

On now to adding not only drawings and images but also videos and audio files to our Celtx projects!

Time for action – adding media files

we can insert notes into a script (see the little note icon next to Ohio Smith's name in the following screenshot):

Celtx tutorials

Clicking on the note icon brings up the note, showing it in the right-most column of the Celtx script screen. We click the Notes tab to both add and read notes. Now, what's the name of the tab next to Notes? Media! See it in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

Insert a vertical bar in a script by moving the I-beam mouse cursor to the desired point and left-clicking. In this case, I've click after temple in the short Ohio Smith example. Now go over to the right column of the Celtx screen and click on the Media tab. We get a screen similar to the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

The white writing that we see on the black background in the preceding screenshot shows the scene title. The + icon below the scene title lets us add an image or other media file and the x icon deletes it.

Now, I want to add a picture of an ancient temple just as a reference after the word "temple" in the script. First, I need the picture, so here's a fantastically useful feature. I type the words "jungle temple" in the text box, hit the blue G (a Google icon), and BLAP, Google gives me more than 1,670,000 photos of jungle temples to choose from, as shown in the following screenshot (it helps an awful darn lot to be connected to the Internet when one tries this):

Cool beans! So I pick out one, download it, and use the little + icon to add it to the Ohio Smith project, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

And now, as shown in the following screenshot, a picture icon is attached to temple:

Celtx tutorials

Double-clicking on the little icon causes the thumbnail on the left to be displayed in the righthand column. It's still small and hard to see, but just double-click on it and the image appears full size in whatever image viewer is installed as the default viewer on your computer.

Save yourself hassles from copyright lawyers if using photos from the Internet for commercial purposes. In the case of Google Images, use Advanced Search and click on labeled for commercial reuse. This returns only those photos that are okay to reproduce without written permission and/or some kind of royalty payment.

Now, I want a little ambience sound to set the mood, so I clicked after "native village" and added the "Scary Wind" audio file from my rather large library of royalty-free music and sound effects. I can click on the icon and hear the audio, as shown in the following screenshot:

Celtx tutorials

We aren't limited to just pictures and sound; Celtx will also let you embed video clips. How would we actually use these things? The following are some examples:

  • Use a recorder to record production or writing notes while out and about and embed those into the script for reference
  • Add photos of places, props, actors
  • Shoot a video of a filming location and embed it, so that details of prop, character placement, and so on can be worked out by seeing where they go

Now, finally, time to embed some video. Again, choose a place in the script by inserting a vertical bar after moving the I-beam mouse cursor to the desired point and left-clicking. Now, with the Media tab clicked, hit the little + icon and choose the video to add. If you can see it in the Add Media dialog box, Celtx will probably handle it well. Let's see what we see.

Okay; that covers inserting media inside scripts, but remember you can attach media files to every character, prop, animal, and so on, namely, every single category there is that Celtx tracks.

To add media, click on the Master Catalog in the Project Library, then on the item you want to attach a photograph, drawing, audio file, or video to. In the following screenshot, we put a photograph on Bobby's character page (Bobby is the hero of Portals):

Click on the Add button below the media box and follow the same procedure that we followed when we added media files inside scripts.

What just happened?

As we've just experienced, Celtx gives us a lot of power in visualizing productions by letting us embed actual photos, drawings, even videos of actors, props, locations, or whatever right in the script itself!


In this article, we saw ways of visualizing productions ahead of time. Specifically, we learned about using diagrams to visually plan the setup of a scene for filming, and also, the utility of employing external drawings and images to create a visual representation of our script.

Finally, we added media files (photos, graphics, and videos) that we found can be inserted in scripts and attached to any of the thirty-six production categories, including wardrobe, props, and locations.

Further resources on this subject:

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Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting Beginner's Guide

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