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China’s Screenwriters Are Finally Ditching Outdated Software (Exclusive)

WriterDuet, a professional screenwriting program that works in Mandarin, just launched in China

China could become the world’s largest movie market as soon as 2017, but many of its screenwriters are still using Microsoft Word to compose scripts.

That is exactly why screenwriter and programmer Guy Goldstein decided to take his WriterDuet software to the Asian country. He saw their use of outdated and clunky software that isn’t even meant for screenwriting — not to mention the hockey-stick growth China’s movie scene has shown in recent years — as a huge opportunity. He also had a big advantage: the main piece of competing software, Final Draft, isn’t compatible with the local language.

“The market is getting bigger and bigger,” Goldstein told TheWrap. “Our competitor, Final Draft, cannot write in Chinese characters. Because of that, they didn’t have the opportunity to sell in China.”

Chinese screenwriters are finding themselves in higher demand lately, as the Middle Kingdom’s surging box office has made it a much more viable career. Chinese actors and actresses are getting raises and studios are even beginning to open their pocketbooks for behind-the-camera talent, although there’s still plenty of “sticker shock,” according to Sky Moore, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan who’s worked on several U.S.-China entertainment deals.

And in this burgeoning industry, Goldstein said a lot of the filmmakers he met were notably young and successful for their age, and tended to come from upscale backgrounds.

“There are a lot of wealthy parents who have done well to where the children have the opportunity to make films,” Goldstein said. “Some of those people turn out to be extremely talented.”

Goldstein initially developed web-based WriterDuet as a way to make collaboration easier — hence the name — and avoid emailing drafts to writing partners. He built the software from the ground up to make real-time collaboration seamless, and it eventually morphed into a full-blown standalone writing software, which he debuted at South by Southwest in 2013. There’s a limited free version, as well as a Pro version that costs $8 a month or $139 for a lifetime subscription.

After building a substantial user base at home, the exploding film scene in China beckoned — but Goldstein knew he couldn’t go it alone.

“What it largely required was a partner in China,” Goldstein said. “In China, we needed someone on the ground who take care of things we couldn’t do — and most U.S. companies really can’t.”

That partner was CNDB Pro, which Goldstein said was the right fit because the company was run by filmmakers and is already a known quantity with relationships in the business. Goldstein said the biggest challenge in WriterDuet’s introduction to China — which happened at June’s Shanghai International Film Festival — was navigating the “Great Firewall of China,” which made the site load slower than he would have liked. He said they were able to work around that with “great partners and network solutions.”

Other than that, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, Goldstein said.

“The largest thing we discovered is how desperate they were for this product,” he explained. “We didn’t know for sure if they were going to say they were happy with Word. But every Chinese writer we met at the festival, the only question they asked is how they could get it.”

The Chinese box office may have hit $6.8 billion last year, but its local film industry is still in relative infancy and isn’t stuck to certain habits — or comfortable with certain tools. That’s where Goldstein sees massive opportunity.

“In the U.S., we’re competing with people who have a way they’ve been working for a long time that largely works,” he said. “In China, they know they have the problem and are looking for the solution and trying new things.”