Burbank software firm aims to get China, U.S. filmmakers on same page -- literally

Burbank team developing Chinese-language screenwriting, film budgeting and scheduling software

Cooperation and interchange between Hollywood and China is on the rise, but getting on the same page isn’t always easy. While L.A.-based writers and producers typically use specialized software such as Final Draft or Movie Magic to write scripts, plan schedules and draw up budgets, the Chinese entertainment industry uses a hodgepodge of tools, from basic word-processing programs to Microsoft Excel, or pirated versions of other programs.

But for the past year, a half-dozen software engineers have been toiling in an office on Olive Avenue in Burbank, aiming to help improve understanding between Chinese filmmakers and their foreign collaborators. Their goal: to create a Chinese-language version of some of the most widely-used screenwriting, budgeting and scheduling software in the U.S. industry.

Burbank-based the Write Brothers -- the original creators of Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Magic Budgeting, and Movie Magic Scheduling -- have partnered with a Chinese production and financing company, Kylin-Mandarin Entertainment, to create the new Chinese-language software package, called Movie Dreams.

On Wednesday, they unveiled their new product at the Shanghai International Film Festival, and they hope to win over several thousand customers by the end of the year. Pricing will be variable, with a sliding scale for students, individual users, schools, studios and other entities. 

“There is no standard of communication in China when it comes to physical production,” said Pierre Henry, project manager for the effort. “In China, each time you do something, people have a different system. A lot of Americans get frustrated, and feel the process is slow and inefficient. We wanted to create a system that would be compatible with the West, and save time and money.”

Creating the new software wasn’t simply a matter of translating the existing Movie Magic software, however.

Engineers had to write code to handle processing of Chinese characters, and then design an interface that was aesthetically pleasing to Chinese users. Lastly – knowing that piracy is a major issue in China – the engineers decided to made the system cloud-based, so that users can be authenticated from Burbank.

The programs will have translation capability, so that users can toggle between English and Chinese. 

In the U.S., productions with any sort of significant budgets typically have completion bonds or other requirements from investors that require strict documentation of schedules and budgets.

In China, most productions don’t operate under such requirements, though some are starting to move in that direction and will need software tools to satisfy those investors’ demands. The new software, Henry says, could help “legitimize” Chinese productions in the eyes of foreign investors and partners.

Kylin-Mandarin, based in Shanghai, is led by Pang Hong, who produced the 2012 Chinese fantasy film “Painted Skin: Resurrection” and has invested in “The Moon and the Sun,” starring Pierce Brosnan, William Hurt and Fan Bingbing, based on the book by Vonda McIntyre. That movie, which was scheduled to be released by Paramount Pictures this spring, was suddenly pulled from the calendar and has yet to be re-dated.

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China

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