Snip.ninja makes sharing film clips a snap

If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve seen people posting a movie clip. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. And you probably realized: It’s an imperfect process. Most typically, the clip is a YouTube link, and it’s too long, or it’s grainy, and it doesn’t concisely convey the quote that the person posting is going for.

Andrew Chapin knows this problem well. And he’s doing something about it.

Chapin has created Snip.ninja, a simple tool for grabbing just the right few seconds of a clip that you want to share online.

“I’m in a lot of group chats,” Chapin says. “My group of friends are always quoting movies to each other. Occasionally we want to send the scene itself.”

YouTube is full of those clips, but “the stuff on YouTube is low quality,” Chapin says. “Or you want a two-second clip, and YouTube is three minutes long. It’s never quite right. I wanted to simplify the entire process.”

“A Constant War Zone”

Sometimes the scene you want isn’t even on YouTube, a victim of what Chapin calls “a constant battle, a war zone on YouTube” over copyrighted content. While he understands the rights-holders’ desire to protect their intellectual property, he believes the short clips Snip.ninja makes available fall into the “fair use” category, like quoting from a book in order to review it.

Snip.ninja works pretty simply. There’s a search box on the site, and you look for the movie you want. Chapin is working to upload movies all the time; “Anchorman,” “Knocked Up,” “Billy Madison,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and even an old classic like “Animal House” are there now. The site has both the full digital movie and the full screenplay for each of its films.

When you find your movie, you can then search the script for the scene or line you want. If you want to send your boss a message about getting paid, for instance, you might call up the Tom Cruise movie “Jerry Maguire,” and search for the scene in which Cuba Gooding Jr. shouts, “Show me the money!”

For Animal House, you can search for John Belushi’s inspirational speech, declaring, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” That’s at the 1 hour, 28 minute, 20 second mark in the script. You click, and that’s entered as the start time for your Snip.

Twenty-four seconds later, you see him yelling, “Who’s with me? Let’s go! Come on!” Click, and 1:28:44 is the end time. Click a button that says “snip,” and a few seconds later, you’ve got a shareable clip. Er, snip.

Enter Gigster

Snip.ninja is a side project for Chapin, who has a full-time job as the founder of another startup, Benja.co, an ad network that helps large brands like Patagonia, Oakley and Nike sell their stale inventory. Benja places interactive web ads on blogs as sidebars, and it also offers a mobile app that gives people 60 seconds to accept a deal.

That business is taking off. Chapin, a native of Connecticut, now lives in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and has raised just under $1 million for Benja. Benja charges advertisers much less than Groupon and assures them their ad will get in front of qualified buyers. “It’s all about getting closer to the transaction in our ads and on our platform,” he says.

With more brands jumping on board, and more investors showing interest, “things at our company were getting pretty crazy,” he says. That did not leave him much time to delve into the nuts and bolts of building out his Snip.ninja idea.

He thought about outsourcing the project to India or Europe, but his Google searches led him to Gigster. “They seemed on top of it,” he says. “They are clear communicators, which is an attribute I look for when hiring developers for Benja.”

“A lot of places want half the money before and half at the end,” he says. “Gigster was benchmark-based. That adds a level of transparency to the process that I appreciate.”

As Chapin sought a developer, one place told him it would take one year to build it, while another said two years. “It was a complicated project to do video in the cloud,” he says. Yet with Gigster, “the whole process took six months.”

“They told me they were fast, and they delivered,” he says.

Get Me Copyright

Chapin thinks the studios should welcome Snip.ninja as a promotional tool. Typically he’s not putting up new releases, but only films that have been out for a couple of years. “We’re actually helping movies stay relevant,” he says. “It can only be a good thing for the content owners.”

At the moment, Chapin doesn’t have a plan to make any money from the site. To go that route, he would “need to lock down the content rights,” he says. “We are talking to some studios.”

Experience tells him not to be too optimistic. “These movie studios are not embracing what 2016 is all about,” he says. “You should to everything you can to share clips, and they’re not. They’re standing in the way of letting their movies live on. It’s a missed opportunity.”

Once people start sharing snips, the studios will likely take notice.

If they don’t, that’s okay. “It’s an experiment,” Chapin says. “It’s been fun to work on.”

Dan Fost

Dan Fost is a veteran journalist who was a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle and has had pieces published at the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and many more. He's written two books about the San Francisco Giants and is passionate baseball fan.