Aren't You That AI Company?

Written by Brian Austin on August 19th, 2020

Brian Austin is a co-founder and CEO of ScriptHop. A technologist and entrepreneur, Brian has created products used by Fortune 100 companies, government, military, and entertainment. Being a massive fan of film and television, he occasionally shares his thoughts on this blog.

There are a handful of script reading AI companies out there that claim to be able to find the best scripts or the big Box Office performers. Each year, a new article in either tech or entertainment news seems to introduce a new company that claims to be able to do this, so the list grows. All I'll simply say about them is... that isn't us.

However, starting out, we did create an impressive AI that can read a screenplay and tell us something of the story and its characters. I'd actually put it up against any of the Box Office predictor guys for doing that. In less than 5 seconds it can read a script and give us a lot of info. It could even generate a very simple logline, something like "A father and son struggle to survive against an alien invasion." Pretty slick, right?

In 2016, we launched a partial demo of our AI in the form of the ScriptHop Character Breakdown Tool for industry readers or anyone working with casting. It would read a script and provide a listing of all the characters, their ages, genders, ethnicities, and any other details it could pull out. Characters were listed in a fun way with line counts and key dialogue samples, giving you a flavor of their voice.

News of this got published in The Hollywood Reporter and got us a lot of attention. Our goal was to ultimately add this technology to a screenplay management platform we had been building for agencies, studios, and production companies. The idea was that they could drag and drop their entire library of PDF scripts and the system would use the AI to help organize and catalog the scripts.

We took this product to the top agencies and sat in meetings with some very impressive people. An unusual experience for a guy like me, a technologist from Portland, Oregon, to be all of a sudden in these rooms. What we experienced was rather enlightening. While our software had some incredible tools for organization, collaboration, and discovery, almost everyone was wanting to see how well the AI worked. Why? Partly because it was cool, but mostly it was because of the question they ALL asked, "Can this write a synopsis for us??" There it was, and this is what framed us.

As the technologist in the room, let me tell you "it's not going to happen" when it comes to a computer writing a synopsis. At least not anytime soon. Try running a screenplay through Watson or some of the other advanced NLP (natural language processing) solutions out there and see what you get. Usually it's just garbage. Computers really aren't that smart. Both Apple and Google have all the money in the world and we still get frustrated that our personal assistants are so limited.

I get the request from the agencies, though. There are over 60,000 scripts being written each year. Who has time to read all that? And sure, most of the scripts aren't great, but wouldn't you want to find that breakout new talented writer who just doesn't have the connections to get their script read?

The revelation caused us to make a pivot, and it turns out it was the best decision we ever made. No longer were we pursuing AI for the use of story distillation. It was never going to get to the point of creating a synopsis that anyone would find value in, anyway. More importantly, it wasn't doing writers any favors. As a programmer, I enjoyed the challenge. My co-founder, Scott Foster, used to run the Story Department at UTA so he got the usefulness. He lent his knowledge of story to help design our algorithm, which is wildly different than how other systems do it. However, the writer in him was also coming to understand we needed something different. We actually needed something to protect us from AI when it comes to storytelling.

That's why we shelved the ScriptHop Script Manager for the time and created the ScriptHop Packet instead. The Packet contains everything you need to market your script all in one easy link. Now, the agencies, studios, and production companies get what they want, BUT the writer is in control of the information.

This solution is very exciting to us and has truly set us on a new mission. We will eventually roll out that library tool we built for agencies, studios, and production companies, but it will be set to work with Packets instead of the AI script reading approach. We want writers to be the ones telling their stories and making their arguments, not AI.

From there, we have plenty of other ideas up our sleeves and can't wait to show you what's next.