Archive for November 2012


November 21, 2012

Non-screenwriters can skip this post since it only really applies to masochists who are still intent on trying to break into the movie business. Then again, some of this might resonate with any writer who has gotten feedback from “professionals” or peers that was puzzling or contradictory. It’s all so subjective, and I really believe most of us have some kind of bias that will shape our perception of work we read and judge. Isn’t that why marketeers promote certain names, be it authors or directors, above the title as if giving it a stamp of pre-approval for certain audiences?

“The Black List” is a perfect example. It’s better known as Franklin Leonard’s Black List, which has become a brand in itself. Here is the BL’s site description of what it is:

The Black List is where moviemakers find great scripts to make and scripts find moviemakers to make them.

It began as a survey. In 2005, Franklin Leonard surveyed almost 100 film industry development executives about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been made as feature films. That first list – many of which have been made since – can be viewed here. Since then the voter pool has grown to about 500 film executives, 60% of whom typically respond.

Over 200 Black List screenplays have been made as feature films. Those films have earned over $16BN in worldwide box office, have been nominated for 148 Academy Awards, and have won 25, including Best Pictures SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE KING’S SPEECH and five of the last ten screenwriting Oscars. A complete list of Black List films is below.

In September 2012, we launched a membership site for industry professionals that functions as a real time Black List and screenplay recommendation engine. You can learn more here and sign up for membership here.

In October 2012, we extended our mission further by allowing screenwriters from the world to, for a small fee, upload their scripts to our database, have them evaluated by professional script readers, and subject to that evaluation and our recommendation algorithm, sent to our – at present – over 1000 film industry professionals. You can begin the process of being discovered here.

Sounds very cool, huh? As someone who has tried just about every means possible to get my scripts read by industry professionals, I immediately signed up. In prior blog posts, I’ve recounted how I have won thousands of dollars from various screenwriting contests, and optioned feature specs to established movie producers/screenwriters by attending workshops and using mass e-query services (which also landed me a semi-famous manager). I’ve also been contacted by directors/producers through things like Inktip, and made the Top 50 list of the Amazon Studios contest three times. Many writers immediately dismissed Amazon Studios as a rip-off and steered clear of it because of their onerous 18 month “option” agreement stipulation. My feeling was most aspiring writers needn’t worry about something that seemed unlikely to be enforced due to the way it was worded… and eventually, AS did change that option policy to a much more reasonable review period. More importantly, writers I personally know won tens of thousands of dollars, and got development deals for scripts that had been going nowhere.

Before I tell you about my experiences with The Black List thus far, I want to comment on the responses to complaints and criticism of the BL paid reader “ratings” and reviews that I’ve been seeing on various screenwriting message boards. They range from thoughtful and informed reactions from produced writers and managers, to silly nitpicking or attacks on writers who dare question the credentials of anonymous “professional” readers — who must not be getting paid much since BL only charges $50 per paid review.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of Anonymous Reader. He or she is most likely an aspiring screenwriter themselves, struggling to find ways to pay their bills while they are trying to break into the biz with a script they’ve been laboring on for months or years. Sure, they have plenty of incentive to find that diamond in the rough… the next Tarantino… the Wow concept that could be a Hollywood hit. But if you’re getting paid less than $50 per read, you will probably want to go through them as fast as possible to make some dough while the scripts are pouring in. Skimming is inevitable. Bad scripts deserve to be skimmed. Good scripts tend to make the reader take their time to pick up nuances and subtext — but not always.

That’s why things like The Black List exist. The reader coverage system is imperfect, just as contest judging often involves a little luck in matching the right script with a reader who recognizes real talent or great writing. But what exactly is “great” versus merely “good” or competent? Again, I think much of that is determined by preconceptions a reader has based on other people’s opinions — that’s why the original Black List got so much attention. Top entertainment pros were saying those scripts were their “favorites” that past year. So when others read them, they were either expecting to read something really good, or inclined to judge those scripts by a higher standard.

I’ve been there, on both ends. When I had scripts that won money or got optioned, fellow writers asked to read them. I could tell from their muted responses that some probably thought their own scripts were better or just as good. Likewise, I’ve read scripts that sold or won big contests and felt the writing was good, but not “great”… or it wouldn’t necessarily be a successful movie because there wasn’t a market for it even if the writing was exceptional.

In Part 2, I’ll get more into the BL review and ratings system. The bottom line is if you’re not repped and feel you have a good script, it’s worth a shot. Get a high rating, and boom, you’re off to the races. Writers have already signed with major agencies through BL. Get low marks, and nothing much will happen — you can “hide” the reviews or remove the script from the site. So the downside is limited, and the upside potential is huge.