Burbank company Write Brothers re-wrote screenplay business with software [Daily News, Los Angeles]
(Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 01--Waiters, personal trainers and, more significantly, thousands of people whose scripts actually get produced owe a lot to the Write Brothers.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary recently, the Burbank software publisher created Scriptor, the first word processor specifically designed to format screenplays.
Scriptor transformed that highly technical writing from an agonizing manual typing process to a few-clicks process.
"You had this 120-page document, and if you made changes, you'd end up retyping or, literally, cutting and pasting," explained Stephen Greenfield, who founded Write Brothers (then called Screenplay Systems) in 1982 with his USC film school buddy Chris Huntley.
"So word processing was a natural for screenwriters. But systems back then couldn't deal with all of the peculiarities of screenplay format: the weird page breaks, the odd margins, specialized formatting and numbering."
Scriptor did all of that maddening busywork, caught on, inspired imitators (the main competitor remaining is Calabasas-based Final Draft), and in 1994 earned Greenfield and Huntley the first-ever technical Academy Technical Achievement Award for an all-software engineering feat.
By then, the company had branched out into movie budgeting and scheduling programs. Then it licensed superior technology to replace the iconic Scriptor with the Movie Magic Screenwriter system "ironically, just after we got the award," according to Huntley.
Now fully owned by Write Brothers and in its sixth edition, Movie Magic Screenwriter, like the competing Final Draft, has passionate advocates among top Hollywood scribes. MMS users include Paul Haggis ("Crash," "Casino Royale") and David Koepp ("Jurassic Park," "Spider-Man," the upcoming "Men in Black III").
Write Brothers' other flagship product is Dramatica Pro, which Huntley described as "a really strange program that's used for story development."
"It's for the creativity side of the process, rather than just the data entry and word processing," said Greenfield, a programmer since his teens in suburban Cleveland, Ohio.
"It asks you questions about a story that you're either analyzing or that you have in your head, and then tells you certain things that need to be in that story for it to actually make logical and emotional sense to your audience."
It looks more complicated than that. Based on theories Huntley and his writing partner Melanie Anne Phillips came up with over years of trying to figure out why their own scripts sucked, Dramatica, just for starters, builds on a table of 256 narrative elements.
The "brothers" insist that Dramatica does not write your story for you. Rather it guides you through the best ways to introduce and elaborate on plot points, characters, themes and tell the story visually.
Apparently, it works.
"Dramatica is by far the most sophisticated model and theory for how great stories work that I have ever come across," said TV professional and writing consultant Erik Bork. "I have been using its software as a resource for years, in my work as a writer and producer on projects like 'Band of Brothers.' It's particularly useful for deepening an existing idea or script and making it feel more complete."
In honor of the 30th anniversary, a new version of Dramatica -- its first upgrade since the late 1990s -- will be coming out this summer.
At the turn of the century, 90 percent of movies made used some piece of the company's software. But Greenfield and Huntley still thought of themselves as writers (the former co-scripted a Disney TV movie, "Little Spies," Huntley's credited on a 1985 horror film called "The Strangeness"), and they wanted their business to reflect that. They sold off their film management lines in 1999 and have since concentrated on writing products.
Since then, the company has shrunk from a high of 50 employees to 10 employees, and recent annual sales figures have registered between $1 and $1.5 million.
The rise of smartphones and tablet computing has led to a proliferation of cheap, if not very good, screenplay apps that sell well below Write Brothers products' price range of $50 to $250.
"We have seen a drop in business," Huntley, who hails from Northern California, acknowledged. "Fortunately, our business has always been really centered on the professional market, which hasn't been affected at all. But it's had tremendous impact on the wannabe market."
That's hardly put a dent in what's always been Huntley and Greenfield's enthusiasm for creative writing, though.
"The thing is, we're doing this because we enjoy it," Huntley said. "At one point, we had a choice of developing Dramatica or an accounting program. The accounting program would've been far more lucrative, but so boring. We did not want to get into that.
"We've made choices generally because it's what we've wanted to do and not necessarily great business choices. And we've been successful in spite of ourselves."
(c)2012 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
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