Khaled Sabawi aiming to bring more diversity to Hollywood with new startup

Canadian entrepreneur Khaled Sabawi is behind new online platform Open Screenplay, which encourages more diversity in Hollywood.

Canadian serial entrepreneur Khaled Sabawi is launching Open Screenplay – a free, online platform for screenwriters, that supports writers struggling to break into the entertainment business.

Open Screenplay is billed as a global community where members can write individually or collaborate with other writers around the world “who share the goal of making the world depicted in television and film as diverse as the one we live in,” according to a release.

Sabawi, 35, the son of Palestinian refugees from Gaza, received his degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo in 2006. He went on to found green energy startup MENA Geothermal, and co-founded TABO, a real estate development project in the West Bank that created title deeds in unregistered areas, making new affordable lands available.

Sabawi says his personal experience benefiting from how Canada embraces immigrants and supports start-ups, has contributed to his desire to help make the world – and in this case, entertainment – more inclusive.

Broadcast Dialogue had the opportunity to ask Sabawi a few questions about the new initiative via email.

BD: Can you explain the mechanics of how the platform works?

KS: “Open Screenplay is a platform that breaks down story structure, provides helpful and proven storytelling tools and makes it easier for writers to write compelling stories and screenplays. You can’t write a great screenplay unless you have a great story first. Open Screenplay is free and anyone can sign-up. Our platform gives writers the option of collaborating with storytellers from around the world. Once a user registers, they have the option of starting a private or public screenplay. While we believe we’re better together, we also know writing is personal, so we let the individual decide what works best for them. If they make their screenplay private, they’re in complete control. They can opt to write individually or invite others to collaborate with them. If a writer decides to make their screenplay public, everyone gets to vote on contributions, so the writer has real world insights into how people are responding and engaging with their screenplay. In both private and public screenplay all contributions are anonymous, so the writer can focus on the quality of a contribution and not who submitted it. If members choose to collaborate and their contributions are accepted into a private screenplay or voted into a public screenplay, they’ll earn a writing credit and a share in the profits if the screenplay is purchased. We’re excited to share that we’ve launched with a short film contest, where the winning screenplay on the platform will receive a $2,000 cash prize and their screenplay will be produced.” 

BD: How will copyright concerns be addressed?

KS: “Under Canadian copyright law, the author of a copyrighted work (for example, a screenplay) is the initial copyright owner. If there are several co-authors, then they together are the initial joint copyright owners. Therefore, our users own the copyrights to their contributions. Since many users can collaborate on one screenplay, Open Screenplay is granted an exclusive license by each of the co-owners of the copyright in each screenplay to monetize the screenplay on everyone’s behalf (in accordance with the Terms of Use), as potential screenplay buyers look to negotiate with one party only. We want to make it easier for our users to get paid and their work produced. All the above said, for users that just want to use Open Screenplay as a powerful platform to help them write their screenplay individually, they’re able to monetize their screenplay themselves.”

BD: Is this project, in part, a response to not seeing yourself/Palestinian/Middle Eastern communities represented in mainstream feature film and television?

KS: “Open Screenplay addresses the general lack of diversity in mainstream film and television. According to academics at UCLA, when it comes to screenwriting, minorities are underrepresented by ratio of 7 to 1 and women by 5 to 1 compared to their proportional population in the US. We believe everyone’s life experiences can make them a powerful storyteller, regardless of racial background or religion. But the ability to share your unique story – the lessons you’ve learned in narrative form – and help enrich our culture, has been hindered by Hollywood’s monopoly on the most powerful and influential storytelling medium for far too long. Open Screenplay was created to help change this and to bring more diverse and global stories to film. History has taught us that great stories can teach us valuable lessons and can last for thousands of years. Our goal is to make storytelling and screenwriting available to everyone and get more and diverse screenplays produced, so we can generate unique original content. We genuinely believe that the world we see depicted in television and film should be as diverse and amazing as the world we live in.”

The venture is backed by business and entertainment industry veterans Sandy ClimanCEO of Entertainment Media VenturesNancy Peterson, founder & CEO of Canadian home improvement marketplace HomeStarsJulia BachaPeabody and Guggenheim award-winning filmmaker; screenwriter Richard Kletterand Andy Wolk, Sundance Labs creative advisor. Jason Bash, a Peabody Award-winning writer, script doctor and story consultant, is Open Screenplay’s chief content officer.