Our Founder and CEO Justin Couto recently took to the airwaves to tell SoCreate’s story and explain our vision to Script2Screen host Alan Mehanna. You’ll typically hear upbeat and positive film and TV reviews on the show, but Alan features other interesting characters in the film industry every now and then, so we were honored to be interviewed about SoCreate!
Below, you’ll find the podcast transcript.
Listen to the podcast and subscribe to SCRIPT2SCREEN here. Alan has a master’s in screenwriting and teaches screenwriting as well, so he has a lot to offer to his writing listeners.
Alan Mehanna (AM): Hello screeners, welcome to another SCRIPT2SCREEN Conversation. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those but the wait has been worth it because we have a very, very cool guest today. His name is Justin, and he’s the creator and the founder of SoCreate, which is a pretty cool new software for any people who are into the screenwriting or storytelling realm. Hello, Justin! So, you are currently located where in the US?
Justin Couto (JC): We’re in San Luis Obispo, California. It’s kind of a small area right on the coast, directly between San Francisco and Los Angeles, right in the middle of California.
AM: Cool, so you’re approximately 10 hours behind me in time. Not to sound nerdy, but I feel like you’re talking to the future! So, before we talk about SoCreate, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you. I like to give me guest the spotlight to talk about what brought them to this point and then, what was that moment when you were like, “you know what, I need to do something about screenwriting software!” (laughs).
JC: It’s been a long journey for me, I never would have imagined ever as a kid that I would be doing what I’m doing today. But the short story is I’ve always been interested in film. I’ve loved movies and television, and really, storytelling, since I was a kid. And when I was in college, I was learning to write software. And, I was interested in going to film school. I started to learn to do screenwriting. And during that process, you know – I’m a creative person, I love creating – and I was taking a couple of different classes on screenwriting. And the process of doing that was just really frustrating for me. I had a hard time being creative when I was working in the environment that I was told to work in. I was like, this is terrible! I don’t feel like this is fun. I’m not having a good time doing this, and I should be enjoying the process of creating stories. It was just really frustrating for me. What I didn’t really realize at the time, and I learned later, is that most people who are successful at screenwriting or professional screenwriters, don’t write inside of the screenwriting software. They craft and create their entire story outside of the software first, in lots of different ways – sticky notes on a wall, to outlines, to notecards—then as a last effort they use a screenwriting software to put it all together and format it. Had I known that, I probably never would have come up with this idea to do what we’re doing. But that was a long time ago, over 15 years ago, when I initially had the first inspiration. I just knew I could solve this problem in a better way. I’ve always been a problem solver. When I had this frustration, I knew there’s a totally better way of doing this. And I could envision a way of allowing you, from the first inspiration, to be able to then start putting that inspiration into software. Then, as you learn more about your idea and explore different ways of evolving it, you could put that into the software. And eventually, you’ll have a polished screenplay. So that was the original vision for the idea.
I was working, and going to school, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to make it happen. I wanted to do it, but it was one of those things that I was thinking about all the time. So, I started to write the software over 15 years ago. But I was running into the problem of doing it on the web, and making it accessible to everyone around the world, and I wanted it to be easy to get started. And what I pretty quickly started to realize, is that the technology on the web wasn’t there at that time. It just wasn’t – I couldn’t build what I wanted to build. So, I ended up turning what I was building into a content management system, kind of like WordPress, but this was before WordPress. I did that, and it was a successful business. And my plan was to sell that business eventually and fund this [SoCreate] idea. It didn’t work out exactly how I was thinking it would, because even when I sold that business, the technology still wasn’t there yet. So, I ended up building another software company, and I ran that for 10 years and when we exited that company, that’s when we started this company. Now, we’re working on building SoCreate. It’s my dream. I’ve been working toward this for such a long time so it’s super exciting.
AM: That sounds like an awesome journey. Hashtag resilience! Having that goal, having to go the long way around, and then sticking to it – it’s very inspiring and motivating to hear that sort of thing. You guys are planning to launch the beta trials later this year?
JC: That’s the current plan. We’re working as hard as we can to make that happen. Building a software platform like what we’re trying to do, there’s a lot to it. It’s much more complicated than it may seem. There’s a lot of moving parts. We’re trying to build this thing to be able to scale and really provide an excellent experience for anyone that uses it. In order to have any kind of tool that you’re using, you’re going to expect it to be super responsive, really fast, and we have to be able to handle it if lots of people are using it all at one time. It’s what we do, it’s what we know how to do, so it just takes time. It’s really hard to predict.
The thing we can say about SoCreate is it’s dramatically different than anything that you use today for writing or even for screenwriting.
AM: Well, for me, I mastered in screenwriting, I teach it, I’ve tried and I’ve tested Final Draft, to Fade In, to Celtx, to Writer Duet, Adobe Story for a while when that was still active, so I’ve been around all the screenwriting software.
JC: Yeah, you hit all the big ones.
AM: Yeah, so I think the first time I actually landed on SoCreate was either on social media or I saw a banner somewhere, and I clicked, and I signed up for beta. All of my screeners listening right now, y’all should do that too if you’re interested in screenwriting, sign up for the beta. But in my mind, I was like “another one?” That was first thing in my mind, another screenwriting software. And I know you can’t really go into details because you don’t want to do that just yet, but you say it’s going to be vastly different and this excites me even more as a screenwriter and a screenwriting teacher, because maybe this is a better option for my students. I know for a fact that my students, some of them, do feel the same way that you felt, which is that the software is clunky. It drives us crazy. It really discourages us. And sometimes I feel that, too, and I’ve been writing for a while. At times, if I have to click on Final Draft or Fade In, I feel like I might collapse. So, it’s quite exciting to know. When was the last time that there was innovation in screenwriting software? It’s been a while. The software that’s currently there, they’re very similar in their structure.
JC: I would almost argue that screenwriting hasn’t evolved at all in like, 100 years. We went from typewriting, to putting it in a word processor. It’s gotten a little bit better over the years, it’s definitely improved. But what we’re doing with SoCreate, it’s not an incremental improvement. It’s a vastly different way of thinking about the problem and doing it in a different way. We have demoed our software to different professionals and several different people, and when they see it, they say “oh my God. I can’t believe I didn’t think that it could be done this way!” It’s really different. And I tell people that before they see the demo, and I’ve never had anybody not be really surprised by how different it is.
I wasn’t a professional screenwriter, but I was really working at it and really trying to get good at it and learn everything about it. When I want to do something, I dive 100% into it and try to learn every single detail about it.
AM: Go big or go home.
JC: Yeah basically, I just don’t want to do it any other way than poring myself into it. But I was frustrated with this process and I was thinking about how I could do this software, and I was really just going off my own experience. I came up with innovative ways to do it, but I had designed this entire model on how it would work before I showed my team. And I had been telling my team that we’re going to do it, and finally revealed it to them in a meeting. Everyone got really excited about it and we started designing the software, and we went through the whole process of creating a screenplay, from the first idea you’d think of to the polished screenplay, and it was largely what I had originally envisioned. But we decided that we were going to reach out to professionals, over 50 people, everyone from some of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood to people that were writing their first script, and we started really diving deep into everything they do throughout the entire process. … We tried to understand, what are the frustrations that they’re having? What are the difficulties? What are the challenges? And we started feeling like we had heard an overwhelming response that everybody works in a frustrated way when they’re working in their current software. So using that knowledge, it impacted the software in a big way. There were a lot of things that I was unaware of in screenwriting. A big percentage of them, we solved just because of the different approach that we took. Some of the problems actually dramatically improved the software because they were problems that I had not experienced. But we came up with really great solutions.
It’s been a long journey. We’ve been working on the software now for almost 4 years, and we still have a little ways to go but we’re making really good progress and I’m super excited about it.
AM: I can guarantee anyone listening to this conversation right now who is an aspiring screenwriter or storyteller would be excited about it. I’m slightly jealous that other people have seen the demo and I’m still on the outskirts. And is it true that you’ve completely self-funded this?
JC: Yes, that’s correct. In my first company, when I took what I was originally trying to turn into SoCreate, and instead turned into a content management system, that was actually at the end of the dot com bust. And what happened during that time, is I had this really great software and cool thing that I built with a couple of other guys, and we got into a situation where we couldn’t get funded. We had a great business, but we couldn’t get funded. So, it hurt us and our ability to do what we could have done with that platform that we built. So, when I sold that company, I was just jaded a bit. I was determined at that point to do SoCreate and fund it on my own. I don’t want anybody to be able to get in the way. I don’t want any excuses to be able to stop this from happening. SO, when I started my second company, its whole entire purpose was to try to make as much money as we could to fund [SoCreate]. And we were able to do that. At some point, we’ll probably take funding because these things just take a lot of money to build. But I wanted to be able to get [SoCreate] to where I could really prove it out, before we brought anybody else in or had to work with other people on it.
When I first started talking about it to people, people thought I was totally insane. Some people still do, because they’re like “screenwriting is such a small market, why would you invest this much time, energy, and effort into that?” Primarily, the reason is because, I think for one, that screenwriting could be a lot bigger if more people knew that they could potentially do it, and if the barrier to entry was lower. I feel like there are so many stories that don’t get told, because a lot of the stories come out of Los Angeles, New York, and certain places around the world that aren’t really diverse. There’s a lot of same thinking. So one of my real passions and hopes are that we just start getting a greater diversity of stories, and we are able to help those stories find interest and be able to experience and learn from people’s experiences that may have never been seen without what we’re trying to do.
AM: And that goes into your tagline which is “Screenwriting for Everyone.” We’re living in such a climate that encourages diversity, that encourages inclusion, that encourages these different stories. As a person who adores storytelling, who lives and breaths storytelling, it’s really, really nice to hear somebody with that kind of vision. It’s really cool. I applaud you for that. We really do need this ability, and you’re right, we do need variety of stories, we need diversity in storytelling. We’re living in such hopeless times, and maybe the diversity of storytelling will give us hope again.
JC: Absolutely. Screenwriting and that art is unique and really cool and if you read a great screenplay, it’s really interesting. The thing I think is kind of sad is, if someone has a great story, the first thought it “I’ll write a novel,” or some kind of long form. But it could really be told in a screenplay, and no one thinks that because they don’t even know where to begin. We’re hopefully going to change that. The thing that I believe is there’ll be a visceral response to our software. You’re either going to love it or hate it, because it’s totally different. I’m excited to get the feedback and the reaction, and I can’t wait to do that. We’ve shown it to several people, and I haven’t had any strong negative reactions, which is kind of what I would expect from some of the very experienced screenwriters that we’ve shown it to that have their own process and don’t need a new way. People should use whatever works for them. We just want to help people be successful, and we think that our software is going to help a lot of people be really successful, and maybe people that wouldn’t even have ever attempted to do a screenplay. But it is quite different. If you’re used to doing it the current way, and you like that way, well then you might not like our software. But we’re totally cool with that.
We hope, in time, people will end up seeing the power in it, because it is so much more powerful. If all you had was a hammer and nails, there are only certain types of things you can build. But when you invent all of these other tools that allow you to think about building, materials, structures in different ways, the complexity to what you can build and how much more useful or in depth it can be is just totally different. And I believe that we’ll be able to do that with screenwriting. I believe that the stories people will be able to write with our tools are going to be at a completely different level of complexity and interconnectedness. Way more powerful, just because of the tools that will be able to let them see their story in different ways and operate on it in different ways.
AM: When do I get a demo?
JC: If you can make it to California, I would be happy to give you a demo! You just have to come to our office.
AM: I’ll just have to wait for the beta, I guess! Justin, thank you for taking the time to talk to me and the screeners. This was a lot of fun. I am super excited about SoCreate and from what I hear, just the amount of passion you have for this project, there is no way that this is going to fail. I’m a strong believer whenever someone is very passionate about what they’re doing, and really believes in what they’re doing, especially if they have a team that believes in what they’re doing, that has success written all over it. There’s nothing more powerful than loving something and being passionate about something and then going full force with it. And I think that’s what you’ve done. I wish you the greatest success, and I can’t wait for the beta.
Thank you, Alan, for giving us a platform to share SoCreate’s story. Interested in getting on our private beta list? Sign up here.
Until then, happy screenwriting.
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach