The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 191 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today is a very special Saturday episode of Scriptnotes.
John: Something sort of crazy happened. And we had talked about this on the normal episode that we were recording on Thursday, and then by Friday it had blown up into this whole new thing. So Craig, give us some back story.
Craig: Well, this is I guess our first installment of Scriptnotes Investigates. This is like our little 60 Minutes here. Scripped.com, which is a screenwriting — a webhosted screenwriting solution, went under and in going under it lost all of the screenplays that it was hosting. It’s a pretty bad situation and you and I gave it a few minutes because it seemed pretty bad.
But as the week progressed some things started emerging that made this a much bigger story. We found out who actually owned Scripped.com and we found out that they were kind of trying to hide the fact they owned Scripped.com. And a lot of just stuff started piling up, a lot of questions. And people were getting pretty angry.
So we reached out to the co-owner of the parent company of Scripped.com and surprisingly he agreed to appear on our show along with Guy Goldstein who owns and operates WriterDuet which is not affiliated with this mess particularly.
John: But also sort of entangled with it in a way which is important to suss out.
Craig: Right. He got like sideways entangled. And so they both agreed to come on the show and face the music. And so we asked some pretty tough questions respectfully. And I found them to be forthcoming. So here’s our recording of this interview. And this is — we thought maybe this would be half of a podcast. It’s the whole thing. We get into it. So sit back and enjoy our interview with John Rhodes, the co-owner of ScreenCraft and Scripped.com, and Guy Goldstein, owner and operator of WriterDuet.
Craig: Here’s what we know for those who aren’t already familiar. Scripped.com, that’s Scripped, S-C-R-I-P-P-E-D, was an online screenwriting solution. The idea is that instead of purchasing a standalone app for your computer like Final Draft or Fade In, you became a member of Scripped.com’s website. You’d write your scripts on their website using their hosted formatting software and then you would save your scripts to their site.
There are other services that use that kind of web and cloud-based solution, Celtx and WriterDuet come to mind. Scripped.com came in two flavors: free and a paid subscription. The paid subscription got you some extra features including, interestingly enough, automatic backups of your work.
On Wednesday of this week visitors to the Scripped.com website were told that not only was the service shut down but all quote, “Recent scripts and backups had been irreversibly deleted as a result of technical errors.” The scripts, they said, “No longer existed.”
Adding some confusion to crisis, the message also told users that Scripped.com had partnered with WriterDuet, a separate online and cloud-based screenwriting solution. However, WriterDuet was already free to use by anyone. The nature of the partnership was unclear and it seemed to be of no relevance for users whose scripts had been destroyed by Scripped.com.
Shortly thereafter, Scripped.com’s social media presence on Twitter and Facebook disappeared. And angry customers began to asks simple questions like, “How did this happen?” and “Who did it?” Specifically, “Who is Scripped.com anyway? Who’s in-charge?” And at first no one seemed to know.
On the Scripped.com About Page in their straight text listing of their corporate timeline it indicates that in late 2014 Scripped.com was sold to, “New owners.” It does not indicate who those new owners are. No one could find any published evidence on the Scripped.com site indicating who actually owned the business that just shut down and lost user data.
And then a user at Reddit Screenwriting noticed that there was a tracking link in a Scripped.com email that linked back to an analytics URL at the ScreenCraft.org domain. And it’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it. And in fact it was quickly scrubbed away from the email.
Now people were asking on Reddit and Twitter, “Was the company called ScreenCraft Media the actual owner of Scripped.com? Where they the responsible party? And if so, why were they attempting to erase evidence of this fact?”
Shortly after, ScreenCraft Media confirmed on Twitter that they are indeed the owners of Scripped.com. ScreenCraft apparently purchased Scripped.com in late 2014. But ScreenCraft themselves are not a screenwriting composition solution, they’re a screenwriting consulting company which among other things runs screenwriting contests as well as a paid screenplay consulting service offering notes for $500 and further consulting services running up to $2,500 per month.
In response to calls for transparency ScreenCraft tweeted a link to a statement. The statement cannot currently be found on either ScreenCraft.org or the Scripped.com websites but we’ll include a link in the show notes. Among other things it gives more detail about how the data loss occurred as well as the scope. While the Scripped.com shutdown announcement says, “Recent script content was lost,” the ScreenCraft statement confirms that “recent” means all of their hosted screenplay content dating back four years to 2011.
How many deleted screenplays are we talking about? The most recent customer base number on Scripped.com is quite old, so the number is likely to be much bigger by now. But as of 2010 Scripped.com had 65,000 registered users.
And we have a lot of questions. And I’m happy to say that we have the right people here to answer them. With us today, we have Guy Goldstein, the owner of WriterDuet, and John Rhodes, co-owner of ScreenCraft Media and by extension Scripped.com. I want thank you both for being here during what I know has got to be a particularly rough week. And Guy, I’m going to ask you to hang tight because we’re going to get to you in a bit. But I thought I’d start by asking John Rhodes. You heard my summary here at the top, did I get that right?
John Rhodes: I think you did. Yeah. By the way, thanks for having me here and giving us this platform to talk about it, get things cleared up because there are a lot of questions out there.
There are some things that are still not clear to me and that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. I’m not sure about the number of users. That’s a lot higher than I’ve ever seen. We have a lot less than that using the site now and far fewer than that in the email list. So I’m not sure how many people actually are using the service. But that’s how — that’s essentially what happened.
ScreenCraft acquired Scripped.com about a few months ago. Let’s see, it was in December, toward the end of December 2014. And we were, you know, under contract not to announce the acquisition with the previous owners because they wanted it to be a concerted announcement. And so we’ve just been sitting on it and preparing to, you know, improve the community which we thought needed a lot of work.
And this has really blindsided us and caught us, you know, all as a really unfortunate and nasty surprise. And I just want to express very candidly how terrible I feel for all the writers that have lost creative work. And we’re doing everything we can to recover what is recoverable and move forward in the best way possible.
John: This is John. I actually had some exposure to Scripped many years ago because I talked to the guy, or actually I went up to San Francisco to meet a guy named Sunil Rajaraman. Was he the person who created it? Is that person you guys you bought it from? Or is that — has it been through other hands in between then?
John Rhodes: Yeah. As far as I know he is the — one of the owners whom I bought it from. There were a few people involved with the company. And, yeah, Ryan and Sunil were the previous owners. And I mean, all that’s public. We’re the owner since then.
I’m not totally clear on what happened before they got involved. I know at some point it was called Zhura and that they did a lot of development and fund raising, and then community building several years ago. But for the past couple of years it’s been very lightly maintained and the community engagement has waned significantly in terms of number of active monthly users.
Craig: So you guys take over, you buy it outright. You — I believe ScreenCraft is the sole owner of Scripped.com, correct?
John Rhodes: That’s correct. Yeah. ScreenCraft Media is the sole owner of Scripped.com.
Craig: Okay. So you purchased it outright in late 2014, you now on the site. And I think what you’re saying is that you were contractually not able to indicate on Scripped.com that you were the owner of the company, is that right?
John Rhodes: Yeah. We weren’t going to make any public announcement of the transfer without all parties agreeing beforehand. And so we were waiting for an opportune time when we had something to offer this great community. And I was in talks with Guy to, you know, somehow offer the Scripped community WriterDuet as a superior writing tool and, you know, just more advanced screenwriting platform.
You know those talks were continuing when this suddenly happened. And again, like I said, what exactly happened, we’re still getting to the bottom of. But it had to do with a poor transfer process, previous owners deleting backup images.
Craig: We’re going to get to the technical part in a bit.
John Rhodes: Sure.
Craig: But I want to ask the question that I think is the most salient and the one that seems to have people the most upset. In the immediate aftermath of the technical disaster, Scripped.com’s social media presence disappears. And there is what appears to be a pattern of facts that indicates that ScreenCraft Media is distancing itself from the actual ownership of this company, particularly the fact that that tracking link was removed but also no immediate explanation from the actual parent company about what happened. Is that accurate?
John Rhodes: Yeah. I have noticed some tweets about that and a comment on Reddit that someone pointed out to me. It’s unfortunate. I — very candidly, I think there’s two issues at stake and, you know, one is, how did this happen and then two, how was it handled.
Craig: Let’s talk about how it was handled. Because —
John Rhodes: Yeah. It was handled poorly and I want to take responsibility for all of my role in that.
My first impulse when I learned the extent of the loss was, you know, immediately damage control. How can I distance the ScreenCraft brand from, you know, this disaster. They’re two completely separate communities and have no public relation to each other at all. There’s been no formal announcement and I didn’t want it to, you know, have the blindside of losing their data and then also having the Scripped community suddenly realize that they were under new ownership.
But I quickly realized that distancing ScreenCraft from that was a mistake. And so, within several hours I wrote a second email to the entire community, introducing myself as the new owner and ScreenCraft Media as the new owner, and explaining what actually happened.
John: So can I just figure out, so you bought this Scripped.com but you really hadn’t done anything with it yet. Were you buying it for the URL? Like, what was the instinct behind buying this service which doesn’t sound like it had a lot of active — you say have users, had a community, it didn’t feel like people were using it that much or were they? Do you have a sense of how many people were using Scripped.com before it went belly up?
John Rhodes: It’s a good question and I don’t know exactly. The best indication I have is there was just over 100, you know, currently paying users. And there was a fair amount of, you know, regular traffic but not much. Definitely, you know, in the hundreds per day, not the thousands. It’s something that I don’t really know the answer to.
The reason to answer your second, your other question is, you know, why did ScreenCraft purchase it. We were approached by the sellers and they were ready to move on to other ventures. I think they had just, you know, realized that it wasn’t living up to the expectations that they wanted for it.
And I know this, you know, niche very well. I come from the, you know, creative screenplay development world. I’ve worked for top producers and top managers and top film distribution executives. And with my expertise and my very quick success with ScreenCraft as a contest platform and a consulting service, I had a strong sense that I could bring a lot of value to the users and improve their platform and offer them something that they weren’t getting with their current, you know, management that had moved on to other ventures.
Craig: I presume that you also — I mean, just as a business man, while I admire your desire to bring value to those users I presume you also perceived that they were going to bring value to you, otherwise why buy this company.
John Rhodes: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think the hope was that we were going to, you know, cultivate a thriving community of writers.
Craig: Who would then perhaps purchase your consulting services?
John Rhodes: Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I go into things, I mean, well, I would be in a very different industry if I was just interested in making money. I love working with creative people and I love working with writers and I’m a writer myself. And it looked like a good opportunity. The sellers were very motivated to move on. And —
Craig: I’m just a little hung up on this idea that you guys had some sort of contractual arrangement to not announce something that frankly must be, I assume if one corporation buys another there’s some sort of public filing that needs to occur, right? I mean, there’s something that’s inexorably public about that. It can’t be done secretly, right?
John Rhodes: No. I mean, companies can be bought and sold privately all the time.
Craig: Okay. So there was no requirement to disclose this. But on the other hand I find it interesting that there’s a service that offers itself to its customer base as a place for them to write and host screenplays. They privately sell it to another company whose job is to — I mean, whose primary service is selling notes and consulting. And now that consulting company now has access to all of these customers’ emails, some of their credit card information, and their screenplay material. And presumably you could look at any of it if you felt like it. And no one thought to disclose this to the customers. I find that fishy.
John Rhodes: Hmm, well, yeah, it could certainly be construed I guess in a fishy way. I’m not exactly sure, you know, what could be implied by that. I certainly know, you know, my motive was to recharge a community that had been waning. And then this is a, you know, niche and an audience that I know very well. The fact that Scripped.com, you know, crashed under my watch is a really tragic irony because I’ve dedicated, you know, the last few years of my life to building a community for writers and championing writers and protecting their creative work.
Craig: But at the same time, this community that you purchased, you purchased it but you don’t know how many people were using it, you don’t know how many screenplays you were hosting. How is it that you don’t even know the parameters of the data that you lost?
John Rhodes: Yeah. I mean, I know the general parameters but I don’t know the exact ones. We inherited, you know, a pretty archaic system. I wish — this is not my forte. You know I’m not a database manager. I’ve never done this before in my life. But I have to, you know, take responsibility for the fact that under my watch this disaster happened and a lot of people lost their creative work.
Craig: You have no idea of how many scripts were lost?
John Rhodes: I have no idea how many scripts were lost. No. Judging from the response, you know, we’ve gotten probably over 150 emails of people, you know, actively reaching out and asking about their screenplays.
And we have, you know, I have been in close communication with the previous owners who are much more expert. They created this whole platform and so they know how to navigate this very old, difficult system. And they have been able to recover an old hard drive from 2010 that has data from, you know, over five years ago.
John Rhodes: And so that’s the only thing that we’ve been able to recover up to this point. And the likelihood of finding anything else is looking very slim.
Craig: And the paid subscribers, people who were continually paying a monthly fee I think to Scripped, what happens to them, and their money that they paid, and anyone who has paid money to Scripped.com?
John Rhodes: So all people who have paid money to Scripped.com since I’ve owned it, dating back to December 2014, are getting all their money refunded. It’s a very small amount.
John Rhodes: I mean, the number of paying customers is barely 100.
Craig: And it was only, you know, three or four months worth of payments anyway.
John Rhodes: Exactly. Yeah.
Craig: Okay. I mean, just correct me if I’m wrong. What I’m hearing is that, yes, there was a concerted effort to disguise the fact that ScreenCraft Media owned Scripped.com and that you course-corrected either as a result of — I think what you’re saying is you self course-corrected, others might think that maybe you course-corrected as a result of being exposed as the owner. And we’ll leave it up to our listeners to judge.
John Rhodes: Yeah. I mean, what happened there is the first response I had was, you know, “Crap, how can I, you know, help this community and minimize the damage to my other business?” But I very quickly realized that was the wrong approach. And as soon as I started to see the blowback I, you know, decided to send everybody an email letting them know who was the current owner and expressing as best I could how this disaster happened.
Craig: That statement, I assume it’s a version of the statement that’s currently at — hosted by show-bizcentre.com.
John Rhodes: Yeah. That’s correct.
Craig: But that is not on your homepage, for instance, at ScreenCraft or — and it’s not available on Scripped.com at all.
John Rhodes: Right. Yeah. I, to be perfectly frank, still don’t know how to update the website, Scripped.com. So I’ve been relying on the previous owner to help me with any changes to that. So I would like to get the new version of that announcement up on Scripped.com. But for now it’s hosted where I could put it up the quickest, which is, you know, on my email server.
Craig: I mean, I’m just kind of puzzled. You guys bought a company five months ago. You don’t know how to update their homepage?
John Rhodes: Yeah. Do not know. We’ve been working — I mean the —
Craig: Well, who updated it to tell everybody that the scripts were gone?
John Rhodes: The previous owner. I reached out to him to have him help me.
Craig: But to update a, I’m just puzzled. I can do that, and I don’t know anything. I’m just puzzled by this. I don’t understand how you can buy a company and not have complete control over the domain and how to get on and change a homepage or add content.
John Rhodes: Yeah. It was mismanaged. And there’s no doubt about that. And I, you know, I want to take full responsibility for the fact that under my watch, these writers lost a lot of their creative work. And I feel — I really feel for them. I know what it’s like to lose work that you’ve, you know, put months, sometimes years, of work into.
Craig: All right. Well, John August, maybe you can kind of delve into the technical stuff here and figure out and maybe with John Rhodes help figure out exactly what went wrong and if it had to go wrong.
John: So what it sounds like — and so I remember talking to Sunil when he first launched this service and because we talked about sort of the idea of back in those days, it was even before there was Fountain, there was called Scrippets. And it was a way to sort of display screenwriting-like format on the web. And so the Scripped site was a very early attempt to sort of doing screenplay-like stuff on the web and it had all the frustrations of that. The web was not great at doing that back in 2010. Since that time, things have gone better and it’s more possible than it was before but it’s still frustrating.
When Craig, yesterday when you told me like, “Oh, this Scripped site went down,” I was amazed that it still existed because I just assumed that it had wandered off into the weeds of the Internet and was never to be seen again, because it’s really kind of old technologies, an old way of doing things.
And so to hear that, you know, it was challenging to update, to hear that it was challenging to sort of figure out how to get stuff put together, I can sort of see that. Because as a person who runs some companies myself, sometimes you will start on a project and you’ll just kind of — you’ll have great ideas for it when you start it, but it just kind of sits fallow for a while. So I know what that is.
The danger is that if you have people paying you every month for that, it’s — you have a responsibility to them. That’s the challenge. That’s why I think it’s great that we have Guy on the phone because Guy runs WriterDuet which is doing a similar kind of service but it’s the 2014/2015 version of that.
Guy, can you talk us through what WriterDuet is and, you know, how it’s like Scripped and how it’s not like Scripped?
Guy Goldstein: I think the main similarity is, you know, obviously it has a web-based version where you can write full screenplays. I’d say the biggest differences are it’s like you said, modern, it does real-time collaboration which is something that I think Scripped users had wanted probably. And Scripped tried to be collaborative, I know that. The other differences are probably just, you know, proper pagination, proper formatting, real production level, you know, revisions, and page coloring, and better — I’ve gotten a little blowback by saying this because it is a little crass to say, but better backups.
We let you, you know, backup automatically to Google Drive and Dropbox and your hard drive and you have all those things built in. I don’t want to talk up because I feel so bad about this whole thing but I, you know, hopefully it’s carrying out a vision that a lot of people have had for web-based screenwriting software for many years in the way that now actually works. And I hope could help a lot of people.
John: What strikes me as so different about a web-based solution though is you’re putting trust in somebody that you don’t have to when you’re dealing with a normal application. So, you know, we had Final Draft on the show before. And when Final Draft messes up, well, it’s just one app and it’s just messing up but you still have that document on your computer. When a web-based service messes up, it could potentially be lost everywhere.
And so you’re saying that, you know, with WriterDuet, people can initiate these things to have backups to their local hard drive, to Google Drive, so there’s some redundancy which is hopefully helpful. But if you, Guy, you know, died of a heart attack tomorrow, is there a real way to make sure that the service would still keep going? Like what kind of safeguards do you have in there?
Guy: The truth on that one is, God-willing I don’t die, so I’ll give that one first, but thank you for rooting for me. But it will continue to work. I don’t have to — I haven’t, you know, updated it today and it works fine. So that’s, you know, the minimum is there’s no reason it would suddenly stop working.
For anyone who has — you know, another thing it does differently is WriterDuet has a seamless offline mode in the Pro version as well as desktop software. And for that, that is, you know, paid obviously versus the online only is free. But with that, you know, you have a lot of advantages. You can keep working regardless, with all the backup solutions. It has Fountain backup. It has, you know, just plain text, essentially, with extra formatting as Final Draft, and Celtx backups as well.
I don’t know. To me, it’s not a perfect solution. I don’t want to die, but if I do, I will feel bad for everyone else as well, I guess, wherever I am. But I would love to have a better answer that if I die then it will keep working until I guess there’s a catastrophic problem. And then —
John: Until someone stops paying your server bills. And then what else is on —
Guy: Right. Right. That’s true. I mean, I have automatic credit cards. So I assume I’ll run some debt before then. But hopefully my mother would call them. I don’t plan on having a heart attack.
Craig: Well —
John: The future of screenwriting depends on Guy Goldstein’s mother —
John: Keeping it going.
Craig: Well, as a good Jewish boy, I can tell you that that’s probably actually fairly robust.
Guy: For the server.
Let me ask you this question, Guy, and I’ll direct this to you as well, John Rhodes. Here’s what you guys said happened. And by you guys, I mean, John Rhodes. “During the recent transfer of ownership, all backups were deleted by the previous owners. Unfortunately, the continuous backup process referenced a no longer accessible server data image. A routine server reboot caused a previously unknown rebuilding task in queue to re-image the server and delete all the current data. The backup images that should have been used during the triggered rebuild were blank. This resulted in a total loss of data on the server with no backup.”
Now, here’s what I’m struck by. Either that is a whole bunch of dust being blown in my face to confuse me or somebody over there, John, knows what they’re talking about. And if somebody knows enough to write that, I would think they would know enough to update the website at Scripped.com. There’s a real disconnect here that I can’t figure out.
I mean, frankly, the previous owners deleting their backups, they’re the previous owners, they don’t own that stuff. Wouldn’t you buy everything? I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
John Rhodes: Well, yeah. The simple answer is I, you know, I’m not a super technical person, I can learn, you know, the basics of things. I hired a consultant as soon as we discovered, you know, the problem that we handled — that we had on our hands. I went out to the people that knew something, to basically a forum developer and, you know, a server expert that I have worked with in the past and to the previous owners. And I asked them, “What happened? How can it be that all data has disappeared?” You know, “Are there no backups?”
And that’s when I learned that all the backups that had been linked to the current server had been deleted upon the transfer of ownership. And that’s also when I learned that what has been told to me was a previously unknown rebuilding task in queue that was somehow triggered. And that’s all I know.
I wish I could speak more to this technically. And maybe, you know, Guy — I’ve asked Guy for his opinion and consultation on this and he’s given me, you know, just his informal opinion, but he’s no server expert either.
Craig: Well, and he doesn’t own your company. I mean, it just strikes me — I’m sorry to say, it just strikes me that you own a company that purchased a hosting, a web hosting solution for people, and you — and apparently nobody around you really understood how that company worked at all. It just seems negligent.
John Rhodes: Yeah. I think ultimately it is. And I think that’s all there is to say about that.
Craig: Okay. All right.
John: So because we’re a screenwriting podcast, we often talk about sort of, you know, characters in crisis. And so I’d love to just sort of talk with you about when you found out something was wrong and sort of what the last, I don’t know, is it 48 hours, like what does that feel like? Because I know I’ve been in situations where things have gone south. And I remember sort of the stress of it and sort of the melting dread that sort of happens.
Can you talk to me about when you first realized that something was bad and where you were and the process of acknowledging that something is horribly amiss? What was the first clue that something was wrong? Was it an email you got?
John Rhodes: Well, so the site — I’ve had that site for a few months and it’s gone down a couple of times actually. Just spontaneously it has crashed and I’ve, you know, gotten an email or some notification where someone says, you know, “Hey, we can’t access the website.” And so I immediately reach out to the previous owners and say, “Hey, do you guys have any idea what, you know, could be wrong?” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, no problem, it’s just this and this and this and this and this. And it’ll be back and running in no time.” And sure enough, you know, within less than an hour, it was back up. And that happened a couple of times.
And so when it happened this time, at first I was like, you know, “Crap, this unreliable, you know, website is down again.” So I reached out to the previous owner and he really graciously, you know, said, “Yeah, I’ll take a look at it.” And he said, “You know, there’s something a lot more serious going on.” And so, you know, I got some other people involved to take a look. And our worst fears were confirmed that the entire server had somehow been deleted and —
John Rhodes: Yeah. Yeah. Spontaneously. And that it had somehow been linked to a rebuilding task. And, again, this is beyond the scope of my knowledge. Maybe John August, you know, you can speak to this better.
John: Yeah, I’d actually love to jump in because, Craig, I know you’re really skeptical but this is actually the kind of thing that happens on servers all the time.
Craig: Oh, no, it definitely happened, there’s no, I’m not skeptical about that. I’m just — what I’m surprised by is that it didn’t — a lot of times things like this will happen when you’re doing something. And while you’re doing something, and asking the server to do something, you press the wrong button or you hit a thing or you have a theory that’s incorrect and through your actions a cascade of tragedy results.
John: Terrible events.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. But that’s what I’m kind of — this almost, what it sounds like from John Rhodes, is that the server just suddenly went “I’m going to do a thing, like a cron task or something.”
John: Rhodes Well, and now that’s how it’s been explained to me and if we discover anything different, you know, I want to be the first to know. This is something that I’m still, you know, trying to understand to the best of my technical ability.
Craig: Got it.
John: Yeah. My hunch is that in discovering what really happened, it was some effort to restart, like the site went down and you’re trying to restart it. In trying to restart it, a task kicks off and something very, very bad happens. And sometimes it’s literally just like there’s an extra slash put some place and it redirects to the wrong thing. That’s the danger of sort of all these online things is that they are so completely ephemeral. They can just, you know, you’re relying on those bits being there. And if you try to, you know, you could try to make a backup and accidentally, you know, delete all the backups in one moment. I can see it happening.
So I don’t have a doubt that it could spontaneously kind of happen because that’s why you do multiple redundant kind of backups in different places.
Craig: Right, yeah.
John Rhodes: And to answer your question, John, about how it feels, a character in, you know, some sort of moment of crisis, it’s I think the melting dread like you said is a good way to put it. I’ve lost documents that I’ve been working on in the past and screenplays and it’s really frustrating and all I can say is imagine that the weight of, you know, hundreds, potentially thousands of people were affected by the exact same event and then feeling responsible for that and it’s a pretty awful feeling.
Craig: We’re certainly pleased that you’re here now to kind of help us get to the bottom of this and I guess my — the one thing I have left to ask you guys about is what I was kind of struck by as strange. And that was on the Scripped.com initial notice it said, “Hey, if you — ” [laughs] and I couldn’t quite understand it, after saying all of our — we’ve lost all your stuff, it’s gone. What can I do now? “In order to honor our users, we partnered with WriterDuet, the industry’s most powerful screenwriting software, ” and then it explains what WriterDuet is and points out that it offers automatic backups to its cloud storage, Google Drive, Dropbox, and your hard drive.
Now, let me just say I’m a fan of WriterDuet and, you know, Guy, I’m a fan of yours, I think you’ve done a pretty great job with your service. And while John is correct, there is a little bit of an issue of you dropping dead or you’re mom going crazy, the fact is that you do allow multiple redundancies there for people and you make it easy for them so, you know, like John and I say like if Google goes down basically civilization is over anyway, your screenplay is not important. But what I don’t understand is this, it’s the strangest thing, like on the one hand “We’ve lost all your stuff ” on the other hand “Hey, we’ve partnered with somebody. ” What do you mean we? Who’s we? It’s gone, there’s no we left and anybody could go use WriterDuet anyway. So can you unwind this for us and explain the nature of your relationship with each other? Guy, why don’t you kick that off?
Guy: So, the one thing I want to say is I regret personally some of the stuff I said and did and I want to put that out in how I phrase this. But, you know, the goal was, let’s say that Scripped users ideally would have some form of personal backups, you know, PDF or something hopefully. And WriterDuet, like Highland, and I believe Fade In imports PDF files and should preserve formatting as much really possible. And with that, we kind of hoped, you know, it ‘s a similar experience in some ways to Scripped hopefully just an improved experience, so a lot of the people who were used to that web-based platform would find it a good transition.
I think our intention was better than some people may perceive it like we weren’t trying to make money off — I was not trying to go out and make money off this or whatever that was. I think we thought if you just say go away some people would have a worse situation then you tell them, “Sorry it’s gone, go here, and you might be able to do something.”
Craig: Sure, it’s the partnering word I think was the one that confused me and perhaps other people too because if they had said, “Look, what can you do now? Well you could go use WriterDuet,” that would work, but the partnering part is tricky and from what I understand, there was at least some attempt to partner here.
Guy: Yeah, and I should clarify one thing too and I don’t know how, well, the email that went out which is not what was on the front page exactly, there was one line I believe taken out which was the line where you did get a discount code for WriterDuet. And I don’t know if that was nice to do or not. We gave half off to anybody who had been on Scripped before so that was a little bit of the partnering aspect. [laughs] I’m not sure if that was a nice thing to do or rubbing it into people’s faces.
John Rhodes: Well, and Guy, I mean Guy also offered to give any of the full like lifetime paying members of Scripped an equal lifetime membership of WriterDuet which I thought was great, so yeah. Maybe partnership, you know, wasn’t the appropriate word in that instance but we thought that offering them some kind of a place to go if they had a backup of their screenplays was in order.
John: Now, Guy, had you had a conversation with John before this all happened about transitioning people from Scripped over to WriterDuet?
Guy: Yes. So, I mean, I’ve been looking at Scripped longer than John has. I knew it wasn’t — I mean, I’ve been looking at it for many years as a writer and just as an interest in technology long before I did WriterDuet. And so probably a year ago I had — or more than a year ago, I had reached out to the previous Scripped owners and they were very nice when we talked about possibilities back then. And for whatever reason nothing materialized.
I think I talked to him a number of times sort of before John and ScreenCraft were involved and at that point I knew John obviously. It may have been the people even mentioned ScreenCraft to them, I don’t remember. And that may have led them to contact him. I backed off I think at that point. I may have sent one more email just to see what’s going on but I sort of let them do their thing.
And then once John took it over, like we’ve know each other a long time and, you know, I think we’ll talk more about this, but we have obviously worked together in different things. And I made — the idea was always there, we thought that was probably — I thought that was probably the best end game for the Scripped screenwriting aspect. I didn’t — we didn’t have a deal in place. We didn’t have like a constant discussion about it. It was sort of neither of our, or it certainly wasn’t my priority at the time so I kind of was waiting I guess.
John: So, Guy, so you knew Scripped from beforehand, so I have a hunch that part of the reason why you didn’t seriously pursue buying it out is because you could make something much better than what they actually had. There was nothing there that was especially useful for you. Is that correct?
Guy: Yeah, the technology if I had bought it, I would literally have none of it. It would just be — the only reason I would have bought it, would be, you know, obviously, you get the users and you transition their data seamlessly ideally, obviously. I mean, we could have done that. And I guess the reason I maybe didn’t do it even forgetting the fact that it would have cost money or whatever, it was also just — I didn’t know how many people were super active on it and if I would be just transferring a lot of deadweight and I wasn’t sure it was worth it. And for whatever reason, Scripped wasn’t sure I was the right person for them and I guess it kind of — it was never a technology consideration. It was always just is it a good transition for the users or not?
Craig: Like the idea is what’s this brand worth? Is it — that kind of thing.
Guy: Yeah, yeah. I mean the Scripped domain name was worth more, you know, at the time certainly than WriterDuet and whether it is now I doubt, but —
Craig: I would say at this point it is not.
Guy: Okay. But, you know, I can’t say anything bad about that. It just sort of didn’t happen.
Craig: But the idea was that you guys would join forces and maybe transition ScreenCraft’s acquisition to your technology?
Guy: That was always probably how I saw the best result for everybody going. I don’t know if — I think John probably saw the same thing. I’m not going to say he did but —
Craig: And was ScreenCraft going to — was this a reciprocal thing? In other words were you merging with ScreenCraft or —
Guy: No, definitely not. So, that was never a consideration.
Guy: WriterDuet was always going to be its own thing. The question is, I mean, there were talks. It’s all vague because we never agreed, but there was the idea do I give some amount of money and that it’s mine or something like that or do I just, you know — honestly just take the users or something and let you keep the site, you know, different things were possibilities, I don’t know how it would’ve actually worked because it never got that far sadly.
Craig: But currently there is no business relationship or owner overlap between ScreenCraft and WriterDuet?
Guy: So, there’s currently nothing, like I don’t know — you probably could ask the question I can answer it about what has happened, and there’s been stuff in the past and there has been, you know, obviously you look at ScreenCraft and WriterDuet, we’ve supported each other for a long time and I’ve provided contest prizes and then they provide promotional stuff. And then just a close relationship. And I guess I know John for a long time.
Craig: But your — I mean that I understand, but you are two separate companies.
Guy: Two separate companies. No joint ownership.
Craig: Got it. Okay. Well, this is obviously incredibly unfortunate. John August, do you have any other questions for these guys?
John: No, I guess we don’t have a very good sense of how many people are hurt by this. We know that, you know, 150 people have contacted saying, “Hey, what’s the deal with my scripts?” We don’t know how many people were actively using the product when it went south. And in a general sense, people who are paying money on a monthly basis, you would expect them to be sort of active enough and they would really be losing something. But if it’s something you haven’t touched for years, and that script is lost, well that kind of feels like the Internet in a way.
So, I think my biggest concern is for those people who for whatever reason were actively using the product and they’ve now lost things. I think that the other thing I would want to talk about is just what lessons do we overall take as screenwriters from this incident happening? Because Craig, when you and I had our first conversation about this yesterday, when this was all brand new to us, we were talking about our own work practices because both of us write on apps just on our computers but we use Dropbox to sort of sync stuff. That could theoretically go south. There’s reasons why you want to have, even if it’s on your own computer, to have your own backup for things.
Craig: Yeah. We certainly on a personal level. Individually, we didn’t even think Dropbox was enough, right?
Craig: So, it’s a little shocking to hear that a company that offers a hosting service didn’t also think that they needed better mirroring and better backup, and in fact was providing a service that they — by your own admission, John Rhodes, didn’t even understand.
John Rhodes: Yeah, that’s true. And I think that’s, I mean, where the fundamental error started is, you know, taking over an organization and a technical platform that I didn’t have personal understanding of or anyone on my team who had the expertise to maintain it especially an older system that took a lot of hands-on maintenance and had some, you know, inherent problems baked in.
Craig: And you have a co-owner, correct?
John Rhodes: Yeah, yeah. I’m half of ScreenCraft. Cameron Cubbison is the other half and I can’t say enough good things about him as a reader and a note giver and he’s, you know, he’s worked for Sundance, and Lion’s Gate, and Paradigm Agency as a reader. And he’s just a really stellar person to work with, and Guy as well. I’ve admired WriterDuet and Guy for so long. And I think we’ve had a long standing rapport and we’ve really wanted to do something together.
And when this, you know, Scripped.com came to me I thought, “Well, it’d be a shame to see that site just shut down and disappear forever. There’s something there. People have used it for years. There’s some, you know, there’s some brand equity there and there’s clearly somewhat of a community still there. ” So I had really high hopes to take it on and make it something good. But we were completely blindsided. I mean if this hadn’t happened, you know, two days ago, I think we would just be soldiering on figuring out what the next thing is that we want to do with this and come out very soon with an announcement to the community letting them know that there’s new ownership and we have some new things to offer them.
Craig: All right. Well, with that I want to thank you both for coming on the show and specifically I want to thank you, John Rhodes, for being both as forthcoming as I think you could be and taking time away from what I suspect is a very busy and very trying day.
John Rhodes: There’s a lot of emails to attend to, that’s for sure.
John Rhodes: And I want to thank you both, too. I’ve been a longtime fan of your show. I wish it was under different circumstances that I was, you know, talking with you guys. But thank you for doing what you do and for bringing a lot of valuable information to screenwriters and calling bullshit, if I can say that, when you see it.
Craig: You can.
John Rhodes: This is HBO?
Craig: Yeah, essentially. Well, this episode is. Well, thank you both for coming on and obviously, John Rhodes, we hope that’s for the best here. If there is a best to be had, we hope for it for it. At least on behalf of the people that were actively using the Scripped service.
John Rhodes: As a cautionary tale, I think that’s the best that it can be right now.
Craig: All right. Well, thank you, gentlemen.
Guy: Thank you.
John: Thank you.
John Rhodes: Thank you, guys.
John: So, that was a much longer conversation that I expected we were going to have.
Craig: It was. I’m surprised by frankly one thing, I mean, I know that probably some people thought, “Oh, my God, it’s going to be Final Draft all over again,” [laughs] but that was different and it was different largely because the CEO of Final Draft was about one millionth as forthcoming as John Rhodes was. I mean, I was surprised by frankly how honest he was about everything. I mean, I kept saying things that I thought he would say “Well,” to and he kept saying, “No, that’s right. ” [laughs] And kind of shocking.
John: So the same week that we’re recording this has been the Indiana gay rights sort of debacle.
John: And the governor of Indiana who if you ever try to interview him he’s always like incredibly evasive. And he was the opposite of Pence. He was just — this guy was just talking about this is what happened, essentially saying like, “You know what? I screwed up a lot. And I bought this company. And we were going to do something with it, but we didn’t do anything with it. And then the servers went crazy and I don’t know what happened. ” And I think if he had a time machine, he would never have bought that company.
Craig: Well, yeah. And if he had a time machine, he might also want to go back and not do that interview because it’s a tricky thing when as the co-owner of a company, somebody says to you, “It seems like you were negligent. ” And you say, “Yeah.” That’s a little dangerous.
But, you know, we’ll see what happens here. The part that blew me away, honestly, and I think I, you know, in going through the episode and even as we were talking to them, I suspect I’m probably a little harsher on this than you. What blew me away was that these guys bought a company that provided a service. And from what I can tell, not only did they not know how that service ran, they didn’t have anybody there who knew how that service ran. And they still don’t have people that can even do things like change a webpage. That’s just befuddling to me almost to the point of disbelief.
John: I can see, though, how it happened. And because we were recording this with two guests online, I didn’t want to sort of argue with you with these guests in the room. But I think there’s an expectation of permanence that is maybe not warranted here.
If you are a person who signed up for this online service and hasn’t paid money for it for a while, and it just goes away, well, that’s the Internet. And I think that’s sort of the expectation of like that things should be around forever is not really true.
These are people who are using Facebook, or are using Google Wave or whatever. Like all that stuff does just sort of go away. So if the people who were actively paying money, I think they have a real legitimate beef with these people. The people who haven’t used this service in a year and it goes away, I’m less sympathetic to them.
Craig: I’m with you on that actually.
Craig: I’m not so concerned about the great — well, first of all, let’s be honest. You can’t go around thinking, “My God, this was a server full of 4,000 great American screenplays.” It wasn’t.
Craig: But for the people, and apparently, it’s in the hundreds, and this again, it’s shocking to me that the man who owns the company doesn’t know how many customers they have. It’s kind of crazy, but there were people that were paying month after month for a service. And part of what they were paying for was automatic backups.
There is an implied trust there. There’s a fiduciary responsibility there. And they failed dramatically, and they failed dramatically in part, it seems to me from what Mr. Rhodes was saying, because they were literally incompetent.
John: So Craig, you know, in your other life, you have run websites, you had your own website which is now shutdown which is fine. And there was never an expectation that — people weren’t paying money for that. You’ve been involved with other communities.
And if those other sort of online forums that you’ve participated in suddenly went away, the ones that were under your watch went away, what would you do? Like, do you have active backups of the other sort of online forums that I know you in?
Craig: Yes. It’s easier and easier with every year. And cheaper and cheaper to the point of free. I mean right now, Google Drive, I think. Oh, my God, Amazon now. What are they giving you? A terabyte for free or something crazy?
So forums are actually relatively easy to set up for an automatic backup. And then where the local location they backup to is in a folder that syncs with a cloud-based backup service. So now you have it in triplicate. It’s hosted where it’s hosted, it’s hosted locally, and then it’s hosted in a robust cloud solution like Dropbox, or Google, or Amazon, or one of these large storage companies.
This isn’t rocket science. And I’m not — I don’t own a company that charges money to people to host their information. I have no position of great trust here. And yet I can do this.
It’s just mindboggling to me how this happened. And the thing is I believe him. You know, there’s that old saying like, “I don’t know what’s worse, that you are lying to me or you’re not lying to me.” Because I believe what he said. I believe he has no idea what happened, nor does he know or anybody there know how to change the webpage. That’s actually kind of scarier.
So I mean, hat’s off. He was super nice and more forthcoming than I’d imagine anybody in his position has ever been before. So hat’s off there. But, yeesh.
John: Yeesh. As we were talking, I was trying to get him to talk about the moment that he realized that things were going south. Because I’ve had those in my own life. And I know you’ve had those in your own life, too.
For me, specifically, it was on my movie, The Nines. And there was a moment, we were about a week from being released. And like our little token release as it turned out. But we were a week from being in theaters. And we got sued by this giant, giant, giant company. And they had an objection to two shots they saw on the trailer. And they were going to get an injunction to keep us from coming out.
And it was all on me. I had to figure out like, “What do I do?” And it was to the degree there was fault, it was my fault. But it was also just one of those kind of crazy things.
It was honestly very much like a conversation you and I have had about spoofs. And like, “Are you allowed to spoof that thing? ” And it was coming down to whether we were allowed to spoof this thing and they were going to get an injunction. I just know what that feels like.
Craig: And it feels bad, yeah.
John: It feels bad. And as we were talking with him, I was imagining myself in his shoes and sort of what that felt like. And trying to be coherent on a podcast about this was a challenge. So I thought he did a great job on that level.
Craig: He did. And it’s why I think you and I make a good team because the shoes that I occupied firmly throughout that whole thing were the shoes of people that pay money, wrote a screenplay, and now it’s gone.
Craig: And they were specifically paying money because they were backing up the screenplay. That’s rough. To lose a screenplay to me is just horrifying.
The last thing I lost was in 1989. I was in college and I did not have a printer in my room. I had a Mac SC20. I had written a 15-page sociology paper. I saved it to a 3.5-inch floppy.
John: Oh, God.
Craig: Walked over to the computer lab in the math building where they had some printers, stuck it in there and nothing.
John: Oh, God.
Craig: Disk not recognized. The disk was bad. It was one of those things where it wrote it and that was fine. But the second it was ejected, it obviously gave up the ghost, and I had to start from scratch. And it was due the next day.
And I remember that feeling, and I never forgot that feeling. And it is, obviously, I fear that more than anything, you know?
John: Yeah, so it sort of feels like their server was that 3.5-inch floppy that got ejected improperly.
Craig: Well, that’s, you know —
John: That’s the rub.
Craig: When I’m looking at this explanation, I got to say I don’t think that John Rhodes is making stuff up when he says I don’t understand it, nor do I think the explanation that he’s offering isn’t the one that’s been offered to him. Somebody isn’t telling the whole story there.
It’s just like I don’t believe that some random cron task is just going to one day go, “Uh, you know what? Let’s just start wiping stuff.” Somebody must’ve been doing something.
John: One of the possibilities, though, is that this thing is so old, it could have been on a server that just, you know, they upgraded the server like literally the hosting company upgraded the server and that was the thing that sort of set off this chain of events.
Craig: I think they’re the hosting company, though.
John: No, but I guarantee you it’s not on one of their boxes. It’s —
Craig: Right. You think that they’re hosted somewhere else?
John: They’re hosted somewhere else. They’re hosted on Rackspace or one of these other giant providers. You never literally have your own box that has the whole thing on it. It’s at some service some place.
Craig: I’d love to know the answer to that because frankly, I wouldn’t put it past these guys just from the way they were talking about things. Because here’s the deal, it’s like if you were hosting with some large company, large companies —
John: You’d hope they’d have backups, yeah.
Craig: Well, here’s the thing. If the problem was, “Oh, we updated my MySQL, ” or “We updated our version of Pearl or whatever the hell it is, or PHP,” well, it’s not like some large company had neglected that for four years and then went, “Hey, everybody. Let’s go from version one to version eight. “
John: The danger is sometimes you are running such old software that you were deliberately delaying the upgrades of those kinds of PHP or whatever the thing was written in so that your thing won’t break. And so then things suddenly upgrade and things go south.
You know, we can probably so weirdly Nima Yousefi who’s our coder is friends with Sunil who created the original program. So I’m going to try to get some more information with Nima about what is actually really happening behind the scenes.
I’m trying to think what else we can offer or suggestions we can do to help. So if you are a person who has a script that is only in a PDF, one thing Guy mentioned is that WriterDuet can sort of import that PDF and do a pretty good job with it. Fade In can do it. Highland, that’s sort of what we made our money on doing that.
Today is Friday. I can knock down the price of Highland for this week, so I’ll knock it down to half. So if people are stuck in with a screenplay that they can’t get in, that’s a way they can at least try to sort of get that screenplay back into a format that they can use.
Craig: That’s very nice of you. That’s very nice of you. Yeah, because that used to be — you know, PDFs used to be a huge problem. Now, every now and then, you know, you get a situation where you’re hired to rewrite something and the writer prior to you has stormed off or has been ejected violently. And the company doesn’t have the actual screenwriting file, they just have a PDF.
That used to be a problem. They used to higher people to type it back in. But now, you know, like Fade In, it’s click, done. You know, and obviously, Highland was doing it before everybody else. So that’s great that that’s there. I mean, my advice, and it’s terrific that you’re offering that discount to people.
My advice is, look, if you’re going to — I understand the lure of the online subscription base notion. It’s the same lure of renting an apartment as opposed to buying a condo, right? You don’t necessarily want to lay out a whole bunch of money for Final Draft. You want to do dribs and drabs each month for five bucks, okay?
Eventually, by the way, you know you’re going to end up spending the same amount if not more. Fade In is only $50, so do the math on that. Highland is how much?
John: Highland is normally $40, so it’s $20 this week. So a lot less.
Craig: It’s $20 this week. Right. So look, there are options for you that are very good between $20 and $50 right now. And I would take a really close look at those.
I like WriterDuet. I think WriterDuet’s great function is if two people are collaborating in different places. I am less sanguine about the notion of a solo writer relying on a cloud-based technology. I would much rather be in total control of my work.
And this kind of is why because here’s the deal, as consumers, what do we see? A website that says, “Look at all the stuff we have. These are all of our features, automatic backups.” And who’s behind it? Well, occasionally, it’s a guy going, “I don’t understand this. I bought it from somebody else. I wasn’t even allowed to tell you I bought it, which I find fishy. And I don’t know what happened, and it’s all gone.”
John: Yeah. The advantage of using software on your own machine where it makes sense is that, I still use Final Draft 8 when I have to use Final Draft at all because I prefer Final Draft 8 to Final Draft 9. If it’s a cloud-based thing, it’s just going to keep updating it. So it’s just going to be whatever it is in the web that day. And if it gets broken that day, well, sorry, you can’t use it that day.
So it’s great that Guy seems to be young and healthy and isn’t going to keel over tomorrow. But if there were a bug in the program and suddenly Guy is not around anymore, that bug is going to be there forever. You may not be able to use the software that you want to use.
Craig: I’m with you. And I think as we generationally proceed as a technological society, people will become more and more comfortable with cloud-based solutions. That said, screenwriting is your art. And you know what? Maybe you should treat that a little more specially.
Craig: I think you should. I think it’s worth it.
John: I think it’s worth it, too. So I would say if you were writing it on a computer like a Chromebook or something that doesn’t have normal apps, that might be a reason why your leaning towards WriterDuet or one of the online only things or Google Docs or one of those kind of things.
But I would say there’s also the advantage of just plain text. You can always just write in plain text. And there’s nothing magical about screenwriting. Ultimately, you can convert that plain text to whatever it needs to be. Just be safe and you don’t need all the bells and whistles right there from the very start.
Craig: Yeah, I agree. And if it’s a question of spending $5 over 12 months or $20 or $40 now, think about spending the money now, controlling your software, controlling how you save. And then you don’t have to rely on somebody else’s promises to you about how they’re backing stuff up or where they’re backing it up to, or somebody’s credit card. Who the hell — I mean, that’s — the whole thing gets scary to me.
John: It is kind of scary.
John: Well, anyway, this was our weird special investigatory episode. So because we normally come out on Tuesdays, it’s weird for us to try to do this on Saturday. So we’re recording this now. We hope to get it turned around for Saturday, not Saturday. For Sunday.
John: I want to thank Stuart Friedel who doesn’t even yet know that I’m going to ask him to cut this together.
John: Oh, Stuart.
Craig: Hey, Stuart. Stuart, why is this night different from all other nights?
John: It’s the Seder. We will be back with a normal episode Tuesday that will be slightly shorter because we’ll cut some of this stuff out. But we will enjoy your company twice in one week which is kind of fun.
John: Great. Thank you, Craig.
Craig: Thanks, John.
John: Oh, we should say just normal boilerplate. Craig is @clmazin, I am @johnaugust. You can find Guy Goldstein and John Rhodes on Twitter probably also. But, you know, your choice whether you want to contact them.
If you have questions for us, longer things you want to say, it’s email@example.com. It’s where you would send those messages.
John: Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- John Rhodes’s letter to the Scripped community
- Fade In
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)