Last month, the new Black List was released and I was rather disgusted to see some of the usual reactions. No, I'm not talking about people bitching that every script on that List sucked. My ire was largely raised by the fact that within hours, people had compiled all of the scripts together in a zip file and posted the link for public download.
You could find it on Reddit, on Twitter, and even on a tracking board that charges its users for access to links like that. In fact, the people behind that tracking board didn't just post the link, but were actively working to compile an archive of those scripts on their own. That sort of thing doesn't sit well with me for a lot of reasons and - perhaps more importantly - it was clear it was not a welcome development in the eyes of several people ON the list.
This sparked a pretty interesting thread on Done Deal Pro. (Notably DDP's moderators made it clear in no uncertain terms that posting a link to the scripts would not be tolerated, so kudos to them there.) Several posters didn't quite understand what the big deal was and there was a (polite, it should be noted) request for people like myself to discuss our side of it.
One user, Anagram, gave a fairly succinct explanation of where the lines are drawn when it comes to the ethics of script-sharing. I posted that I pretty much agreed with that, but there was a request for a more complete answer on my part. Since some people here might find this interesting I decided to re-post it:
- Any public review of a script without first obtaining permission of the writer - WRONG, for a whole host of reasons.
- Any public dissemination of a screenplay you didn't write, including but not limited to in-development projects and contest winners - WRONG.
You'll find zero negotiation from me on those points. Screwing over contest winners like Nicholl Finalists is something I find especially repugnant. I don't care how much anyone wants to read them, those winners deserve the chance to control who reads their script and know who in the industry is requesting their script. When websites and web posters make these scripts widely available, it deprives the winner of the joy of seeing everyone coming to him, wanting to look at their work.
Let's also make it clear that "public dissemination" means giving access to the script to people who you might not personally know. So if you're dropping scripts in a Sendspace folder that anyone can get to, that counts. Scriptshadow's email where he sends links to a "limited" list of a few thousand people? That counts.
Let's talk about the grey area people seem to want to find here...
I don't think there's anything wrong with trading a script between friends, and it's understood between my friends that there are some scripts we can't share at all, and other scripts that if I pass it to them, they CANNOT pass it to anyone else. At the end of the day, that works because I'm accountable to them and they're accountable to me.
This is one reason why no one cares about assistants swapping scripts - because they're not going to fuck each other over. If Harvey's assistant gives a friend the new Tarantino script, that friend isn't going to jeopardize his buddy's job (and the friendship) by writing a review of it and emailing it to everyone in his contact list. In Assistant Land, there are consequences to that kind of thing and it basically keeps everyone in line. In Assistant Land, if you let the tentpole slip and the leak is traced back to you - it costs you your job.
But a writing hobbyist in, say, Idaho doesn't have that incentive. If they get JUSTICE LEAGUE or AVENGERS 2, what consequences keep them in line? Sure, there was that $15 million lawsuit over DEADPOOL, but the mere fact we're having this discussion means that clearly didn't scare anyone too much.
I only give scripts to people I know personally. And I have NEVER traded a script for a major film produced the companies I've worked for. I've been lucky enough to work for companies that have dealt in franchise films and nobody wants the grief that comes if those scripts get out.
I interviewed Scott Frazier recently, and damned if I didn't get people emailing me asking me to send them copies of his scripts. I was surprised at their boldness, but that's also the perfect example of someone I'd never give a script to. I don't those people. I don't know what they'll do with the script, where they'll post it. And they have no loyalty to me, so there's no real incentive for them NOT to screw me over.
Or here's an even better example. Back when Scriptshadow was hyping up The Disciple Program for two solid weeks before his review, he didn't just slip it to a few trusted industry contacts. He actually emailed it out to his entire newsletter three days before the script was reviewed. Given the timetable that was later revealed this also would have been AFTER the script was in the hands of several agents and managers who were looking to sign the writer.
Blasting such a hot spec out to a newsletter of hundreds or thousands of people indiscriminately could have been a colossally stupid move. At the time that newsletter was sent, a lot of people were trying to get their hands on the script and they all had to go through Carson. Better still, it created a ticking clock where some agents and potential buyers were worried that their rivals had access that they didn't. Thus, a fire was lit under them to react quickly if they wanted it. Hesitation or inability to get the script could have meant missing out on a hot property.
This is the mentality you want your buyers to have to deal with. It puts more power in your hands and it creates a bidding war.
Within an hour of the newsletter going out, three readers of MY blog had forwarded it onto me. The emails were mostly variations of "Hey, this is the hottest spec in town and just in case you want it I figured I'd send it to you." I'd never heard from any of these people before, and I'm pretty sure I haven't corresponded with them since. They don't know me (outside of my blog). They don't know who I work for. They don't know what I'd do with the script or who I'd send it to.
But they knew this was a hot spec. And it made them feel cool to show someone that they had it. They had nothing invested in the writer's success or failure. I doubt they even knew the writer. They just were feeling the rush of having something they believed was desirable and wanted to show people that they were on the inside.
Maybe you don't see how dangerous that is, but when it's a script you're attached to, I guarantee you'll think differently.