Final Draft’s Second Act

Final Draft is already Hollywood’s dominant screenwriting software. But what if it were more like the Google of all movie data, to be mined and monetized? “Ultimately, a script is a database,” says Final Draft’s Josh Kline.

Final Draft’s Second Act

Final Draft is like the Microsoft Word of Hollywood. Just about every movie you watch, every TV show you see, began its life as an .fdx file, which has the same currency in Hollywood as .docx has to the rest of us. This has been the best year yet for Final Draft in terms of software sales, and recent iPhone and iPad apps should only grow its market. But to hear CEO Marc Madnick and Final Draft’s Head of Online Services Josh Kline tell it, sales of Final Draft software could only be the beginning. Madnick and Kline are working out a new vision for the screenplay–one in which the words on the page serve not merely as a blueprint for actors, but as a database of information that can be mined for continual revenue opportunities during and after a film’s release.


FAST COMPANY: What’s next for Final Draft?

MARC MADNICK: We’re working on something we call Final Draft Connect, a cloud service we’ll be slowly rolling out next year. Ultimately what that will be is document sharing and document collaboration.

And you would price that, presumably, as a monthly service, rather than a one-time software sale?

MM: Exactly. Potentially storage is free, the community’s free, but then maybe there’s another level, with document sharing and maybe online editing. Then there’s an enterprise version for studios that could allow all sorts of things, involving metadata. A Final Draft script is not just a writing file, it’s more like a database of words. You’re capturing information that you can distribute down the line in various ways. For example, say Coca-Cola goes to Paramount and says, “We want to do a commercial with every actor in every great movie that ever said, ‘Order me a Coke.’” Right now they have to scour through every movie. But if every film in the future is a script where we tag, with metadata, all the words, you can hit a button one day and find “Coca-Cola” in every script.

Josh, can you expand on this idea?

JOSH KLINE: We make the software that is used to write virtually all the English-language scripted TV and feature content you see, and because of that, we’ve got tremendous brand equity around screenplays, and we’ve got the industry standard file format for screenplays–and it’s underutilized. Ultimately, the screenplay is a database. Most people don’t think of it like that, but our job is to make people understand that valuable information is in a screenplay, and that if you share that information with other partners across the media supply chain, everybody can extract value from sharing those files. We can create more opportunities around screenplays: advertising, distribution, search engine optimization.

You were recently hired to develop this new vision for Final Draft. Can you explain more how this would play out?

JK: The screenplay is the backbone of a production. If somebody’s describing a scene–“Joe sits at a bar and orders a beer”–then if you can carry that bit of information and share it with applications down the line, and you can start connecting that information with organizations that handle product placement, or with companies that provide second-screen viewing experiences. So while you’re sitting there with your iPad at home, and you get to the part where Joe orders a beer, all of a sudden there’s an offer for Budweiser on the iPad.

Currently the screenplay is a document whose usefulness ends after a film is shot. It sounds though that you want to extend the usefulness of a Final Draft file through the entire life of a film, beyond release.

JK: That’s largely what Marc brought me in to do. To date, the .fdx file has been used in development, pre-production, and production of a film. But we’d really like to see the .fdx file have a long-tail lifespan, that can be used as a reference really throughout the supply chain. Another example is closed captioning and subtitles, which today is really a manual process.

This seems like a big vision–to see .fdx files as the common repository of data about movies. In your projections, do you guys imagine this could dwarf the revenue you see in software sales?

JK: We do think the launching of cloud services and expanding the brand into enterprise offerings beyond screenplay writing have an opportunity to provide the company with a multiple of revenue we see from software sales.


What multiple?

JK: It’s darts on a board. There’s any number of business models. We think we could see five times to ten times the revenue we see from software sales.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who’d be a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

[Image: Flickr user kristinnador]


About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal