I spent last week reading through another batch of Black List 3.0 submissions and my experience of the previous week was a pretty good forecast of what I got in this stretch of scripts. In brief, there were a lot of loglines that got me excited, but based on what I read, most of these scripts need a little more time to bake. I can't really recall any scripts that sent me fleeing from my computer in horror, but I did come away disappointed.
My agenda was to find a strong, commercial, compelling original script in the bunch. I know there have to be a few of them out there. Looking through the loglines I can see that a lot of you are good at coming up with ideas that could yield interesting stories and characters. A fair number of them sound like they could be marketable too.
I ran into a dilemma with one of the scripts that made it past the 30-page mark with me. As far as the screenwriting mechanics, the writer had it pretty solid. Scenes were well-paced, characters had distinct voices, good visual description... It was all there. The problem was... the script had a lot of elements that felt familiar to me. In fact, if you started describing the script's plot to me, I very likely would have dismissed as too much of an indie cliche.
(Out of fairness to the writer, I'm not going to identify the logline or discuss the specific premise. The Black List 3.0 embraces the premise of "do no harm" and I take that seriously too. Plus, I don't have the heart to publicly attack something submitted by a presumably loyal reader.)
But you know what? I found myself easily tearing through 30 pages and then 45 pages. Even as my concerns about the premise and some of the plot lingered I really felt like I should give this script a shot. Eventually I had to admit that I was dealing with something that was at best, "Consider with Reservations." I don't think it's really fair to the writers to give a lukewarm recommendation on the blog. For all I know, there could be a writer out there who'd really take to the material, so why dissuade potential reads by saying "eh, it's good, but it's not earth-shatteringly great."
I mentioned my dilemma on Twitter, noting that I liked the voice but that the script was making a lot of common and expected choices. This provoked a couple reactions. Some asked if I could PASS on the script, but CONSIDER the writer. I can't. On Black List 3.0, you can only rate the script. So if I give something a high mark, I can't just be saying, "Hey, I like this writer." It's gotta be "I love the whole package."
A second sentiment was essentially an observation that the industry only seems to turn out derivative product, so why should that concern me at all?
I. Hate. This. Argument.
You might as well go to an audition for Idol and when they tell you that your singing is off-key, complain that they set such a high standard because they could easily fix the voice with autotune. Hell, take a few shots at Nicki Minaj's voice while you're at it, or go to X-Factor and complain that if Britney can get by with autotune, it's unfair that you actually have to sing well.
It's relatively easy to write the poor man's version of any familiar premise. If all you can do is Xerox, then what are you bringing to the table at all? There are plenty of people already in the industry capable of doing that. I'm not looking for a voice I can autotune - I'm looking for a voice that can make the notes new.
To be fair, until you've been on this side of the looking glass in some capacity, you really have no way to appreciate just how many aspiring scripts go for the predictable beats. Once you've read a hundred or so romantic comedies, you've gotten attuned to the obvious rhythms, even in the cases where the writer might think they're being clever.
A good script reader has probably seen hundreds of scripts in any given genre. We've seen the character dramas with the same sorts of family strife. We've read the horror films that all try the same clever tricks to hide the killer's identity. We sat through a lot of the same sorts of tricks in a romantic comedy designed to bond and break up their lead couples.
"Good enough" isn't really in our vocabulary. We're not paid to find "competent writing." We're paid to find GREAT writing. It's the difference between being a great college athlete and being a professional level athlete. And just as every pro scout wants to find that phenom - every script reader dreams of being the one to spot that future gem.
So know that as I make it through the rest of these submissions (probably at the rate of about 10 scripts a week), I am really pulling for you guys. I know there's a very real chance that by the time I get to some of the later scripts, the writers might have removed them from the Black List due to their initial month running out. I'm really sorry about that, but with the demands on my time, I can't move much faster.
Good luck, folks!