Well, I made it through the first 25 scripts that were submitted to my post on Black List 3.0. I have to admit, the response was far beyond anything I expected. I wasn't sure 25 people would even take me up on the offer, let alone the 60+ requests currently sitting in the comment thread of the earlier post.
I want to say right off the bat that I was somewhat impressed with the overall level of writing that I saw in those 25 submissions. I've read for a contest or two and I've got plenty of experience with amateur-level submissions, so a part of me fully expected to be screaming "Oh dear God! Why did I sign up for this!" well before I got through ten submissions. As a group, you guys are far more promising than most of the people submitting to contests and I saw blessedly little of the horrible newbie mistakes that drive me to drink.
Upon reflection, that makes sense. The people responding fastest to my offer were more likely to be regular readers of my blog. Thus, it's a good sign that what I've been bitching about for four years has really sunk in with you people. For starters, I don't think I recall a single gratuitous mention of a woman's cleavage.
Of the 25, I think there might have only been two - perhaps three - scripts where I knew within a few pages that this was going to be a pass. I expected at least a third of the scripts would have me stopping after a few pages to ask, "wait, what did I just read?" So good work in not embarrassing yourselves.
I promised everyone I'd give them ten pages. More than half of you had me intrigued enough to keep going further, just to see if your execution showed signs of living up to your concept, or just to see if you could sustain some of the positives of your script. I'd say at least fifteen of you got me to page 20 and at least 8 of you had me reading past p. 35. I considered announcing which scripts had me reading deeper into them, but I realized that probably wouldn't be helpful. In some cases, it was the concept that kept me going, only for me to realize by p. 60 that things were being developed too conventionally or too slowly. In other cases, a script started with a very strong first act, only to meander in the second act long enough that I knew it wouldn't be a high consider. So I didn't want to leave anyone with the impression "You had me until p. 44, but p. 45 is where you fucked up, so fix that."
This is because I wasn't just looking for "okay" writing, or "decent" writing - I was looking for strong writing. More than that - I was looking for a strong script. After all, giving a good review to the script is like throwing up a flare on that specific idea. Those of you guys with stronger concepts obviously had a distinct advantage here - especially those of you who communicated those concepts well in your logline. Generic or familiar-sounding ideas had me less enthused from the start, but there were plenty of loglines that had me thinking "I can't wait to see how they develop THAT!" (Not coincidentally, those were the writers who often got 30 pages or so to make their case.)
The flip side to this is that there were a number of concepts that faced an uphill battle with me for one reason or another. In some cases, the issue was that the story was just too mundane or "small." In other cases, the factor was a genre I didn't have a particular affinity for. For instance, I'm not a huge Western fan - but at least two Westerns got me to page 25 or further. I bring this up to underline that just because I didn't respond to a particualar idea, it doesn't follow that everyone will be as apathetic.
I was reading these submissions specifically with an eye to finding scripts that would rate at 8, 9 or 10. I wanted to find the real undiscovered gems that could stand up to scrutiny once passed into professional hands. I'm optimistic that there are a lot of 6s in those submissions, and 6s that could easily make it to a rating of 7 or even 8 with some rewriting.
Also, one writer let me know via Twitter that he'd seen a marked uptick in traffic to his script and even heard from an agent after submitting his submission in the comment thread last week. He seemed to believe that there was a direct connection between the two, and while I'd love to crow about that, I've not seen many instances of reps following up on material promoted on my site before. (Having said that, traffic was WAY up on Friday.) But if anyone else has something like that happen, please let us know, okay?
But what you really want to know is did I find that undiscovered gem? Yes - sort of. MCCARTHY by Justin Kremer was the clear winner in this showdown of the first 25 scripts. In some ways I'm surprised and some ways I'm not. This script was spotlit in an email the Black List sent out last week to all their professional users, following a very positive evaluation from one of the Black List readers. Also, the Black List algorithm predicted that I'd rate this script as an 8.3, which is more or less accurate.
Beyond that, I'm not big on political scripts. Despite COLLEGE REPUBLICANS being #1 on the Black List two years ago, I wasn't really a fan of it. So it's not like I'm predisposed to the material - plus I had to look at COLLEGE REPUBLICANS through the marketability lens, and political material is kind of a powder keg these days. My feeling is Repulican viewers would claim that the film was an unfair, propeganda-driven hatchet job on Karl Rove (oh, the irony!) while Democratic viewers would take issue with the fact that it doesn't depict Rove as half the sub-human pond scum we know him to be.
(And if you take issue with that characterization, look up what the man did to John McCain in the 2000 primary election. It was a vile, evil act of race-bating that not only relied on the worst elements of his party, but in fact fed those fires to make those elements a dominating force in that party. I've always loved Cindy McCain for saying, "No, I'd stab him in the front," after being asked if she ever would be tempted to stab Rove in the back.)
But a bio-pic of noted asshole and Senator Joe McCarthy is a different prospect, because nearly everyone with half a brain agrees that McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts were an horrific abuse of power and a dark time in our nation's history. (Those lacking that half a brain can be discovered here.) But there's something fascinating about exploring a person who more or less branded himself as a larger-than-life defender of freedom while basically making his name synonymous with the most egregious and repugnant forms of political grandstanding.
This is not only a well-written, well-paced script - it has what every script needs: a fantastic villain. One scene in particular stands out, about 30 pages in, McCarthy's grandstanding has already begun to make waves. A campaigning Dwight Eisenhower is so disgusted by his actions, he doesn't even want to be photographed with him. Instead, the Presidential candidate requests a private meeting with the Senator, during which he essentially says "The fuck?!" and "No, seriously... the fuck?!" He basically tells McCarthy that he doesn't agree with what the Senator stands for and isn't scared to say that in public. He demands McCarthy apologize to the people he's hurt and McCarthy's response can pretty much be translated as, "Eh, bite me" and "Suck it, Ike."
So McCarthy has to introduce Eisenhower at a rally and he does just that and only that. No puffed up speech. No "I endorse this guy." Pretty much "Here he is. He's running for President." And then the amazing thing happens. Eisenhower comes out ... and basically endorses everything that the slimy Senator stands for.
That set of scenes alone ensured that I was gonna stick around to see Jackass Joe run out of town on a rail when the the wheel of fortune eventually turned against him.
Those of you with Black List access can find McCarthy here.
I'll gradually work my way through the other submissions. November's a busy month for me and I know I won't be able to blow through 25 scripts as fast as I did before. I'm still optimistic I can find one really good script that hasn't yet been spot-lit by Black List readers. I recognize that to pull that off, I'm going to need to move fast though. I'll keep you guys updated as I go.