Tuesday 1 October 2013

Interview with Guy Goldstein

Guy Goldstein lives in Austin, Texas, and writes screenplays and software. 

His major contribution has been the creation and distribution of an excellent, free, screenplay-writing software package called WriterDuet. He also offers a service called ReadThrough, which enables a writer to hear a screenplay read out loud.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Schenectady, NY, but it's unclear if I've grown up.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

Well, since they're likely reading this... an interesting one. I worked at my family's business from a very young age, traveled the world, and got the impression that I could do anything. I have since learned better.

Where did you go to school?

Three years of public school, four years home-schooling, community college essentially replaced high school, then I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University at age 19. To me, what kids learn is less important than that they enjoy learning it.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

Tutoring math and computer science at the community college. What a nerd I... was.

You used to build compilers for the embedded software industry. What took you away from that?

It's a long story. A long, boring story. The short (and less inflammatory) version is that I fell in love with screenwriting, and started building software for my own use. When I found other people wanted it, I figured I'd fund my company with the first million I made off selling a screenplay, and act responsibly with the second million. (Ferraris are very safe!) The checks should be here any day now...

You were living in southern California. What made you move to Austin, TX?

That's an even longer, slightly less boring story, but I'm saving it for my screenplay titled "When making sense stops making cents" (not really) (unless you like it). Austin has an excellent indie film scene and a brilliant tech sector. But most importantly, the people are wonderful and the atmosphere is relaxed. It's the perfect spot for my software, screenwriting... and life.

You are offering a free software package for screenwriters, WriterDuet.com. What was wrong with Final Draft that you thought you could improve on it?

There was no good way to collaborate on a script. I couldn't get CollaboWriter to work, and other screenwriting programs that claimed to be collaborative had serious limitations (e.g. you couldn't write simultaneously, or if you did, one author might lose their changes). 

    I wanted to make a real-time collaborative screenwriting app that just worked. But once I was building WriterDuet, there were so many things I had been frustrated by in Celtx, Final Draft, etc. The interfaces other programs had were non-intuitive for beginners. Dual dialogue should look right and still be editable. You should be able to hide all but the scenes you're working on. The change history for each line should be available. Scene lists should be better. Grammar checkers should find mistakes like "it's" vs "its." And you should be able to import and export different (competitive) file formats!
    I set out to make the best screenwriting program available. I wanted to make writing as fun and engaging as possible. And I wanted all writers to have professional quality, fully-functional screenwriting software... for free.

Plus you have a complementary business, ReadThrough.com. Tell us a little about how that works.

Most screenwriters have been involved in a script read-through (or table-read), and know how valuable those can be. They probably also realize how difficult read-throughs are to organize.

    ReadThrough.com is a free website where you can upload your script and select from volunteer actors all over the world. You save money by not printing scripts, buying snacks/water, and save a headache by not hunting down and scheduling all your actors.
    ReadThrough.com is not intended to replace live actors reading a script together, but it's a fast and convenient way to hear early drafts. You can revise your script (and replace actors) without redoing parts that haven't changed. And if you want to listen to a script in your car, at the gym, etc., ReadThrough has excellent quality computer voices to instantly perform your script. All for free.

When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

I've acted since I was five, and my older sister writes (excellent) musicals that I grew up performing. I transitioned into improv for a few years, then noticed I had control issues and wanted to hold both sides of the conversation. Writing a screenplay is a lot like being a dictator. (There goes my romantic life.) More importantly, I've always been fascinated by how stories reveal truths and challenges within my own life. I love movies that expose new (or hidden) feelings, and when I write, every character exposes a bit of who I am. Banging on a computer is like hours of therapy... And I should probably write more.

What was your first spec script about?

Non-violent zombies reanimated as slave-labor. When a "zob" is shot down, a depressed human detective becomes the leader of an increasingly bloody equal rights movement.

What are three things you wish someone had told you about screenwriting when you were starting out?

1) No matter how good your writing is, it needs to be better. Find faults in yourself, 'cause everyone else will.
2) Read scripts from movies you love, and analyze why they work.
3) Write short scripts and film them with friends. If you're writing a feature, film scenes from it.
If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.

It's a fast and very focused read. You don't need to follow every screenwriting "rule," but break them for good reasons, not because you're too artistic (i.e. lazy) to learn from others.

What are your ten favourite movies of all time?

Harvey (1950)
Fight Club (1999)
Murder by Death (1976)
The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)
The Matrix (1999)
Goodfellas (1990)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
What’s next for Guy Goldstein?

Improve WriterDuet and ReadThrough! The next big feature is an online/offline desktop app for WriterDuet, but I'm always listening to feedback from writers who use the products. Got a suggestion? E-mail me! guy@writerduet.com

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