Where storytelling meets technology

🦄 Unicorner Startup of the Week: Saga

✍️ Notes from the Editors

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On September 27, 2023, the Writers Guild of America (a union coalition representing 11,500 screenwriters) ended a nearly five-month strike over a Hollywood labor dispute. Among many other concerns, the potential of AI taking the jobs of writers was cited as a big factor behind the strike.

In comes Saga. An AI writing tool built for creatives, by creatives. With a platform intended to empower, not replace, the team hopes to shift attitudes surrounding artificial intelligence in the writing world toward the positive.

With all this being said, we’re excited to partner with Saga to bring their story to you today. Make sure to read until the end for an exclusive Q&A with the co-founder and CEO Russell Palmer.

- Arek and Ethan 🦄

Where storytelling meets technology

Saga is an AI-powered story-writing tool built with the writer in mind. By using specialized prompt configurations meant for movies and TV, Saga helps screenwriters populate their ideas with complex characters, deep themes, and more. The online tool can generate text story ideas as well as images for storyboards, with animation coming soon.

🔗 Check it out:

💰 Business Model

Saga is available to consumers through a SaaS model. Prospective users can sign up on Saga’s website for a 3-day free trial and $20 per month.

📈 Traction and Fundraising

  • Launched first version in April 2023; current one in August 2023

  • Raised $125k pre-seed from Jason Calacanis through his LAUNCH accelerator

  • Raising a seed round in winter 2023

📖 Founder Story

Years before founding the company in 2021, Russell and Andrew Palmer were children making stop-motion movies together on their father’s VHS camcorder. While both studied to become engineers in college, Andrew chose to go back to school for film. After working his way up the assistant director ladder, Andrew realized something—the only way to make it in entertainment as a director was to make and premiere films. However, after raising financing to produce an indie film from their family, they realized how quickly the costs for ghostwriters, storyboard artists, film equipment, and more add up.

So, the team began brainstorming ways to create on a budget while keeping quality high and artistic control in their hands. Andrew turned to his brother Russell, who had been working with GPT-3 in his Stanford AI Product classes. It was at this moment the duo came up with the idea to use AI to reduce the costs of independent filmmaking. After noticing the traction they were getting, they officially became a company en route to Unicorn-hood.

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💼 Opportunities

Saga is looking for software engineers, particularly those who have experience with:

  • OpenAI/StabilityAI APIs

  • Text-to-video models

  • Runway, Metaphysic, or Pika Labs

Interested? Reply to this email and we’ll connect you with the team.

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🔮 Our Analysis

Saga wants to be a pioneering AI tool for creators. Its unique approach surrounding text and visual generation is powered through GPT-3/4, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion integrations. The platform's ability to generate text for Acts and Scenes, images for storyboards, and upcoming animation underscores its commitment to providing comprehensive creative assistance.

A big motivator for Saga is its vision to democratize access to Hollywood, enabling creators from diverse backgrounds to break into the industry based on merit rather than industry connections or money. The story of the Palmer brothers reflects their dedication to reducing the costs of independent filmmaking, epitomizing the innovative spirit behind Saga. Ongoing fundraising efforts and the quest for top-tier talent further exemplify their strategic approach to growth and technological advancements.

In the larger context of the 2023 Hollywood writers' strike, Saga's value proposition gains even more significance. The strike highlighted crucial concerns regarding compensation, employment terms, staff sizes, and control over AI in the creative process. Saga aligns with the outcomes of this strike, offering a tool that empowers writers while respecting their artistic control, resonating with the new industry norms post-strike. With its potential to disrupt the storytelling landscape and provide a platform for both aspiring and established storytellers, Saga stands poised for promising growth and influence.

📚 Further Reading

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🎙️ Founder Q&A 

Russell Palmer, Saga CEO

Unicorner: How would you describe the ups and downs of running an early-stage company? Any interesting nuances to building in the entertainment space worth highlighting?

It’s interesting, when we started interviewing users and building the prototype in summer 2021, all investors wanted to talk about was crypto. I was told by one VC, “all the good AI stuff has been invented already, but can you make an NFT instead?” Not long after, ChatGPT and all the Image Generators like Midjourney came out and everyone lost interest in Bitcoin. Then, it was all about generative AI, and the web 3 experts suddenly became GenAI experts, all the LinkedIn profiles and conference titles changed in, like, a week.

Now, you’ll hear a lot of VCs and bloggers talk down about using the GPT API and it no longer being impressive (like it’s not the greatest most powerful invention to build your product on in history), and they are more excited by companies building competing LLMs. Soon, you’ll hear them talk about how it’s pointless to compete with Microsoft, Google, OpenAI, Anthropic, Meta, so don’t build or invest in LLMs. I feel like with each up and down, the people who missed the last round are trying to look smarter than the ones before them, just chasing shiny objects. This is how you end up with things like the FTX bubble.

Our advice would be to stick to your guns and area of expertise, with Andrew’s being filmmaking. There will be many startups that integrate a number of AI models and APIs, and win in each vertical like law and therapy, that VCs will dismiss as “wrappers.” But, they also admit someone is going to win, so why not you?

U: Where do you see Saga in five years?

It would be amazing if we’re helping small teams of people all over the world produce Hollywood Blockbuster-quality movies on indie budgets, having those films make it into big film festivals and be well received. I hope people refer to AI as a tool like CGI and not call them “AI-Made Films.” I think in five years, the next generation of creatives will come up natively using ChatGPT and AI for help with things like resumes and cover letters, and, like my generation was Internet-native, maybe GenZ will be AI-native, and it will be totally normal to use AI with help in your work and life. It would still be hard to get your short film into Sundance or TIFF but, with self-publishing online to YouTube or TikTok you have a chance to go viral and get millions of views if the work is good, and you’re sure to get noticed by festivals and studios after that.

For Saga, we’d love to add the ability to generate photo-realistic synthetic video after Animation. I still think it’s important and desirable to have human actors, but maybe it helps with the special effects. Like, if you need a car explosion scene, it’s hard to film that on your iPhone. The dream would be someone getting on stage at the Academy Awards and saying, “I’d like to thank God, my Mom, and Saga for helping us make this amazing film and coming up with the idea for the Act 3 Twist.” That would feel like a mission accomplished, especially if it was someone who never would have broken into Hollywood and just given up on their dream, depriving the world of their amazing story and artistic vision. People think ChatGPT writes bad scripts, and AI will make bad movies — and without a human driving the process, that’s probably true. We hope Saga helps the next generation of filmmakers make the best movies in history, with the best ideas and scripts possible through Human + AI collaboration for those who never could afford a Script Doctor or Coverage.

U: What message do you want to leave readers with?

At the end of the day, it’s all about helping more people make more and better movies. It’s not about replacing people with robots, or executives using AI to reduce writer’s salaries to make bad movies (wouldn’t they get fired?). I have empathy for people scared of AI, and understand their distrust for Silicon Valley after so many scandals, but, as the saying goes, “be the change you want to see in the world”. When we first saw Generative AI, our thought was to build the first Artist Friendly AI Company, that’s why I started my blog talking about how both AI can help and hurt Hollywood and how to steer humanity in the right direction rather than just trying to ban it in America while other countries race ahead.

AI is here to stay, and it’s clear people will use it as a tool to make movies. Support the ones with a good mission, boycott the bad ones if necessary, and help the government create sensible regulation in a way that improves the arts and humanity yet allows for innovation and new art forms that grow the industry like interactive VR movies. It’s also interesting, when I speak with Hollywood insiders they’ll secretly tell you the system is broken, it’s a lot of luck and connections, no one thinks good original stories get told anymore and it’s all Superhero Sequels. I think AI is the disruption needed to not only democratize but improve cinema, making better movies than we’ve ever seen before, but only if done right — and that’s what Saga is all about.

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