Live streaming has been used to hawk lipstick, smartphones and even a rocket launch service. Now you can add screenplays to that list, as screenwriters turn to online video platforms to find buyers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The novel idea was started by Bianjubang, an online community for screenwriters that also hosts online classes about screenwriting. In three live streaming sessions lasting about 90 minutes each, 16 screenwriters took turns introducing their screenplay ideas. Some writers also used slides to help illustrate their points.

But there’s a cost before buying a script for interested viewers. People who want to learn more need to pay 168 yuan (US$23.83) to get in touch with the writers.

Du Hongjun, the founder of Bianjubang, told The Beijing News that his idea of letting screenwriters promote their stories through live streaming was inspired by Luo Yonghao. The indebted founder of floundering smartphone brand Smartisan recently jumped on China’s live-streaming ecommerce bandwagon to sell other companies’ products. Luo drew 48 million viewers and made 110 million yuan (US$15.5 million) in his debut.

Using an online education tool called Xiaoe Tech, viewers can leave comments and pay during a live stream. (Picture: Bianjubang/WeChat)

But screenplays attract a much smaller audience than the gadgets and snacks that Luo was promoting. And they don’t necessarily have the advantage of Luo’s flamboyant personality. According to view counts on the live stream sessions’ page, the first live stream on April 3 drew 7,350 views. The second and third sessions drew about 2,900 and 5,000 views respectively.

Du also told Chinese media that after the first two live streams, which featured 10 screenwriters discussing their scripts, about 10 people got in touch to ask for more details. Responding to worries that revealing stories during a live stream might facilitate plagiarism, Du said that all scripts featured in their live streams have registered copyrights and that they have a legal team to protect the writers.

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for China’s film and TV industry. Cinemas across the country were forced to close and production activities have ground to a halt. More than 5,000 TV and film production companies have died in 2020. That’s more than double the number that folded in 2019, when the industry was already having a hard time.

As the country starts to rebound from the worst effects of the pandemic, film production activities have partially resumed. Screenwriters hope selling through live streaming can help speed up the industry’s recovery.

“Companies have been stocking up screenplays during the outbreak,” Du told The Beijing News. “If partnerships can be forged during this time, production can start immediately once the outbreak ends.”