Christopher Parker is the CEO of Story Data, a relatively new script hosting site that is hoping to help connect screenwriters with producers looking for scripts.
My thanks to Christopher for taking time out to answer my questions and provide such thorough and insightfulanswers.
Onto the interview…
Q: First up, how about a little bit of background on the man behind Storydata, how did you get into the industry?
A: My background is in technology, for over a decade I was a software engineer, then a manager of multimillion-dollar development teams. Like many others, I have dreams I wanted to pursue in the entertainment industry. I started financing shorts, producing small budget indie films, etc. I have a passion for entertainment and a passion for technology. I’ve also written many scripts, one was optioned.
Q: Any aspirations to write/produce yourself, or is this purely a business proposition for you?
A: Yes, I want to get back to producing and writing more this year. That is one of my yearly goals. I, like many other writers, want to become better at the craft.
Q: How would you describe Storydata to a new writer or producer?
A: Story Data is a platform designed to help writers connect with industry professionals that are looking for their stories using advanced technology.
Q: And what prompted you to develop and launch Storydata?
A: Originally the idea came from an article I read about Quentin Tarantino and how he was upset his script was shared with people he didn’t send it to. You can read the full blog here (https://www.storydata.io/blog/How-Quentin-Tarantino-Sparked-A-Big-Data-Solution/). I thought to myself, with all this technology in this world, we are still sending scripts over email. Initially Story Data was designed to simply allow people to share their script with anyone and control when, how, and for how long the person has access to it without physical possession. As we got deeper into it, we realized that Story Data could be much more.
Q: How long has Storydata being running and any successes to date?
A: Story Data has been out for about a year, but we are just now getting to the point of realizing the dream for phase 1. With the release of our mobile app next month, we will have completed phase 1 and provide a full secure script sharing solution. The only secure way to share a script is if the writer has full control.
When it comes to successes, we have had several in the short content area. We expect more success now that are name is getting out there and everyone are beginning to understand what we are trying to do.
Q: There are plenty players in the market these days, what do you think differentiates Storydata?
A: We do not believe we are like any of the players. On the surface we appear to be just another script hosting website. The hosting is only the beginning of what we are going to do over the next 24 months. Just in the script hosting area, we set ourselves apart in a few ways. First, we are a completely free platform. Anyone can host their scripts online and share at no charge The platform is also free to industry professionals and their staff. Lastly, we set ourselves apart from the others by how we are using technology to further the connection between writers and between writers and professionals.
We are working with professional writer and producer Bill Marsilii, “Déjà vu” starring Denzel Washington, “Woodlawn”, and the upcoming features “Lightspeed” with Jerry Bruckheimer, Jingle with Sandra Bullock, and “Cold” with Reese Witherspoon. Our mobile app will have the ability to allow people to attend interactive classes with working writers in the industry and learn firsthand. Bill is the first writer to sign on to this ground breaking idea. Imagine learning how to become a better writer from someone who is doing it for a living every day. In the future we want to extend this functionality to cover other areas of the industry, such as learning from executives, directors, actors, agents, managers, first AD’s, etc..
Everyone will see over the coming months how different we are. Again, even that is the tip of the iceberg in what we plan to do moving forward.
Q: A general consensus amongst screenwriters is that Producers are already inundated with scripts, why would they come to Storydata to look for material?
A: Part of our research involved talking with buyers of scripts of all levels. The “too busy to search websites” was a common theme. The current system works for them because agents, managers, friends, etc. are doing the leg work for them. They are the ones that find the script the producer is looking for. We wanted a way for a buyer to find the story they are looking for with minimal effort. Producers can use our “Notification Set” feature which allows them to tell our A.I. what they are looking for. The A.I. uses data points to match their desires with stories in the system. When a match is found, the system will notify the producer. Its all cloud based and seamless. Additionally, we added the ability for producers to search for stories using natural language over SMS message on their phones or using Alexa. We have more things planned in the area of making it easier for the producer to find the story they want to create.
Q: I can’t find a Pricing page, so what is the charge for writers to have scripts on the site?
A: There isn’t a charge. A writer can upload as many scripts as they like. We have some writers that have 5 or more scripts uploaded. Many people are skeptical about the platform having no cost. As a writer I hate that other sites force you to pay outrageous fees for what amounts to a record in a database and a small PDF file sitting on a server. That isn’t fair to the thousands of writers out there with great stories but can’t afford to pay $25 (USD) a month per script. I wanted the barrier of entry to be something everyone can afford. Free is affordable by all!
The platform is also free for industry professionals. This allows the new producer or director the same ability to find a great story as a big-name industry insider.
Q: Is anything else charged for, to the writer or Producer?
A: To obtain a coverage report, that does cost, but that is optional. You are not forced into buying coverage for any hosted script. The interactive professional learning classes will also cost, and that cost will be set by the professional, so it will vary. Again, that is an optional cost. We don’t just want to host your scripts; we want to help make you a better writer if that is what you choose.
Q: In addition to the hosting service you offer Coverage Reports, who actually writes these for Story Data and what do you get for the 3 tiers?
A: Our resident reviewer is the awesome Cody Smart. She is an English Literature and Linguistics major, has an MFA in Screenwriting from NY Film Academy, certificate holder from UCLA in development and producing for film and tv, and is a former Sony Pictures reader. Cody writers some of the best coverage in the marketplace and truly focuses on the story and how you can make it better. She is also the author of our “Helpful Reviewer” blog series, where she writes snackable writing advice.
When Cody and I first talked about our coverage service we wanted to try to keep the cost down while providing a ton of feedback to help take the story to the next level. We were both big fans of the now defunct platform Script Shark and the detail in their coverage reports. Some platforms provide a simple two or three paragraphs and that doesn’t truly help the writer. We have three tiers of coverage report and the main difference is how much detail you want to purchase. Our most basic package provides you with a two-page analysis, tier two with 3-5 pages, and tier three with 7-10 pages. Writers can view a sample of the coverages on the services page for their script.
Q: One of the novel features is Blockchain integration, how does that work for a script and what advantages does it give the writer?
A: Blockchain idea initially came from speaking to filmmakers. Many indie filmmakers work very hard to make their first feature, then realize they need a chain of title to sell their work to a distributor. Many of them told us that it can take weeks to track down every contract, release, etc. that they have them in different inboxes, hard drives, etc. This process becomes harder the longer it takes to make your film as you could have years of documents to compile.
When it comes to blockchain, you don’t just use it for anything. You really need to find a solution that it works best for. We felt an immutable recording system fit perfectly. Filmmakers can create a chain of title project and store their documents on our blockchain as they get them. Think of it as a filmmakers DropBox for their important documents, and it’s completely free.
Writers help to start the chain of title, as each script uploaded, is also placed on the blockchain. If there is ever a dispute about copyright, we can compare document hashes and produce our findings for litigation. We are not a governing body, so our blockchain shouldn’t be the sole way a writer copyrights their work. That should be done with the governing body in their jurisdiction, however our blockchain can help in proving a case for copyright.
Q: Another unique feature is a monthly competition; how does that work and how are winners selected?
A: We review scripts routinely and select a winner each month. The prizes vary from a free copy of Final Draft to a free coverage report.
Q: Scripts are scanned by an algorithm to create a profile of the script, rather than a user categorization system, why did you decide on this route?
A: We wanted to provide a producer with a snapshot of the story at a glance. This saves the producer a lot of time. If I am looking for a contained script with a female protagonist, and no more than five speaking characters and seven locations, I do not want to even entertain scripts that land outside those parameters. That is hard to quantify with a categorization system. Those systems are limited in how much information they can store and relay to the user.
We also wanted to incorporate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and the current systems can’t do that well. Lastly, our future is way beyond hosting, which I will explain in more detail later. However, with a system that has a script in data format, we can push advancements in productivity and save productions money. Things like automating casting tasks, automatic tagging scripts, budget and schedule creation, etc.
Q: There are a number of other interesting features such as Alexa and SMS, do you think these will prove popular?
A: I believe these features will be used but not widely. We wanted the option for producers to easily find stories and we wanted to build the system to handle various use cases that may not happen often but do happen. A producer in a meeting may search over SMS based on what a participant in the meeting is looking for. Perhaps an agent uses Alexa verbal search in their office to see if there are any stories that matches their client’s current desires. These things don’t happen every day but they do happen and you want the power of the platform to extend to those special cases when possible.
Q: What was the rationale for charging Producer, and do you think they’ll pay?
A: We do not charge producers; it is completely free for them as well. Not charging the pros gives every writer a greater pool of buyers and collaborators that might see their work.
Q: Are prospective producers vetted before they are allowed access?
A: Yes, professionals have to submit an application to obtain that status on our website.
Q: There are a lot of people competing for aspiring screenwriter’s limited money, from guru’s, through coverage services, and a plethora of competitions. What makes Storydata a good investment to money and time?
A: Writers will have more money to spend on investing in their skills because they are not wasting money on hosting their stories. We want them to become the best writer they can be, not paying for hosting, frees up money so they can do that. Even if they choose not to use any of our services, they still have more disposable income to seek that betterment.
Q: If you don’t charge writers or producers to be on the site, what’s the business model?
A: The business model is based on a suite of services that we have now and will release over the next 24 months. Currently coverage is the service we have now. Within two months we will release the interactive professional classes and those services will grow to include more teachers. The future will see the casting, scheduling, and budgeting platforms release services.
Q: Once a producer finds a script or a writer… what happens next?
A: Producers can see a writer’s contact information, and they will reach out. We do not involve ourselves in any negotiations or buying process. In the future, I do see us using our Blockchain to record deals, but of course that will be optional.
Q: And what changes have you seen in the industry since you started 17 years ago?
A: I have seen the increase in technology but mostly on the hardware side of things. I have seen DVD hit rock bottom, but the invention of streaming and that has brought about Peak TV. I have seen the reduction in the importance of indie films and indie filmmakers and that is truly sad. Studios have stopped making good movies and have settled for expensive events. The art of story telling at the highest level is now gone, and the ones that truly want to tell stories shut out of the art form. This hurts marginalized groups the most. Movies I grew up on like Goonies, probably wouldn’t be made today. I have also seen technology make it possible to make a film for next to nothing and scare up over $100 million dollars in revenue. With the rise of social media and the ability to spread the word yourself, it’s a great time to be a filmmaker as the barrier to entry is at its lowest point in entertainment history.
Q: What future developments are in the pipeline for storydata, I saw something on the website about mobile apps?
A: Yes, our mobile app will arrive next month. At that point you can share your script with anyone in the world and they would never have a physical copy of it. We are working on “Story Casting” which will be a huge disruption in the casting game. Using data about the characters from the script, we can help automate much of the casting process. Of course, we will have a large free aspect to this.
Our plan is to also add more courses and classes taught by working professionals in the industry. Diving into above and below the line departments, to provide live interactive master classes. We are also planning to disrupt the budget, scheduling, location scouting, and production office areas.
Q: Any advice in general for the aspiring screenwriters on Simply Scripts in terms of breaking in?
A: Continue to write, even when you feel no one is paying attention. Writing daily makes you better. Study scripts you find from professionals and read for yourself why this script sold. Join a writing group that is actually active. Lastly, I would say that you should network your ass off. Go to events in your area, travel to L.A., if you don’t live there, and attend conferences and events. Don’t be shy, walk up and introduce yourself. Be kind to everyone you meet and always talk and make friends with the assistants. Those are the next producers, agents, directors, and managers, and people in this industry always take their friends with them when they move up.
Okay, now for some getting to know Chris questions…
Q: Fave movie?
A: Too many to name only one. Some of my favs are, “Catch Me if You Can”, “Five Heartbeats”, “Life”, first three “Star Wars” movies. That is all I can think of right now.
Q: Fave script?
A: I really loved “12 Years a Slave”, “The Social Network”, and “Moneyball” scripts. Yes, I’m a big Sorkin fan!
Q: Best and worst screenwriting advice you’ve heard.
A: Worst I’ve ever heard was “Formatting doesn’t matter”. I heard that as a young writer. Anything not formatted correctly isn’t even read by someone important enough to buy it and makes you look like a fool from page one. Best advice I’ve ever heard was the one that sounds the most cliché’, “Write what you know”. My first reaction was, how can I right about an alien or things that might not actually exist. If you say that to yourself you are missing the whole point of the advice. Even a fictional tale has some truth in it that is real and what someone knew. Lord of the Rings was just as much about love and family as it was about magic and mystery. A story will feel more real when you have a connection/knowledge of the fundamental parts.
Q: Fave food?
A: Pizza. I’m a pizza whisperer lol!
Q: Fave drink?
A: Water hands down. Vodka and cranberry if we are talking liquor.
Q: Fave sport and team if applicable?
A: Indianapolis Colts for football, Indianapolis Pacers for basketball. I don’t have a fave team in any other sport, but I like to watch baseball, world football, tennis, and NASCAR. NASCAR is like baseball, meant to experience in person!
Q: Fave thing to do outside of managing Storydata?
A: I like writing, coding platforms and apps, hiking, putt putt, playing cards, laughing with my family, and investing in the stock market using apps like Robinhood.
Q: Any final words of advice to the aspiring writers out there?
A: Don’t settle for being only a writer. Try producing your own scripts with local talent. It will actually make you a better writer, as you get to see first hand what actually doesn’t work.
You can check out Story Data at https://www.storydata.io/