As promised, the answers to our open forum with Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard. Franklin was generous enough to find time in his busy schedule to answer all of your questions. Thanks Franklin! I'm sure everyone appreciates it.
From Ben James:
Two questions for Franklin would be:
1. What advice would you give to a newbie submitting their first script to the Black List?
Make sure your script is as far along as you can take it on your own. Our readers are evaluating material as they would the work they read or have read in their daily lives as Hollywood industry professionals. Good enough is rarely good enough.
2. What impact do you think the Black List has had on the way new screenwriters can break into the business?
One of our goals has always simply been to make the only gap between being an aspiring screenwriter and a working screenwriter being a good screenwriter. Whereas before breaking into the industry was very much about who you know or where you live (with the exception of the Nicholl Fellowship which has a thirty year tradition as a way into the industry for writers from outside the system), now it's as simple as writing an excellent script and making your script available to the right people via the Black List website.
I'd like to ask Franklin if TBL site was planning on ever showing us who is looking at our scripts. Right now it's like a black hole. You can see someone downloaded it but you don't know who. There are other sites that show you exactly who's looking and reading and it's great.
We have no plans to show you who is looking at your scripts. While we monitor every click and keystroke on the site in order to protect writers, we made the decision we did because we knew that industry professionals would be far less likely to download and read material if they had the risk of (oftentimes unprofessional) follow up from writers. By providing that modicum of protection to the industry professionals, we can create an environment where high level industry pros will actively seek out material, which generally can't be said of the other sites to whom you're likely referring.
Knowing they like to crunching numbers there, I'd want to know things such as:
What percentage of uploaded scripts are rated 8 or higher?
What percentage of 5 rated (6 rated, 7 rated, 8 rated etc) scripts are downloaded by pros? My guess would % gets higher with higher score. I'd also be curious if ANY scripts rated less than 8 get downloaded by pros.
4.28% of evaluations receive overall ratings of 8 or higher (3.73% receive 8s. 0.53% receive 9s. 0.02% receive 10s.) Best place to take a closer look at similar numbers would be our first year annual report. Scripts rated below an 8 definitely get downloaded, though you're right that the % and volume increase with higher scores.
How does the BL account for subjectivity when it comes to comedy? I had comments on a script that stated that the characters were "too broad" and "over-the-top", which is exactly the feel I was going for (something in the vein of a Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey comedy). It feels a bit unfair that a script whose fundamentals are strong (at least, as indicated through the "Consider" it got from a respected script consultant) would be punished because the reader has a bias toward comedy that is more grounded in tone.
A belief that a script is "too broad" and "over-the-top" isn't evidence that "the reader has a bias toward comedy that is more grounded in tone." It's evidence that the reader though that the script in question was "too broad" and "over-the-top." Another "respected script consultant" may feel similarly, or different.
We treat subjectivity in comedy the same way we do in every genre: we embrace it. Each of our readers rates the script based on how likely they would be to recommend it to a peer or superior in the industry. The aggregate of all ratings a script receives allows us to make individual recommendations based on industry pro members' tastes and identify those scripts which are generally well received.
Does the BL have any strategy prepared in case someone makes an accusation that his/her idea was stolen through the site? I know idea theft from newbies is rare in Hollywood, but the ability to anonymously download other people's entire works makes this scenario within the realm of possibility.
We track every view, download, click, and keystroke on the site. Technically, downloads are not anonymous. We simply do not share the information with the writer.
From Iam Seth:
1) How much money and/or profit has TBL made from aspiring screenwriters?
With the joining fee and reading charges it must be a lot.
This is not information we plan on sharing. Our prices are actually quite low compared with services that provide far less than we do.
2) Echoing others, who are your readers and how are they selected.
All of our readers have worked as at least major agency, management company, studio, financier, network, or production company assistants wherein a significant part of their job was reading screenplays for at least one year. Most have considerably more experience. They are further vetted by me based on their previous coverage and additional coverage they do on a script that we provide (not an actively hosted scripts). Fewer than 15% of those who have applied with the minimum of experience have been invited to read for the Black List.
I ask this after seeing some of the semi-literate notes from TBL's readers.
This is not a bitter case of "Z0mG ju di'nt gimme me a 10!!!!!!!!"
I mean I have seen some very cruddy TBL notes that seem like they were written by a 15 year old, and not an intelligent one.
It's disappointing to hear that you had an unpleasant experience with one of our readers. You're in the very small minority. Trust me that the only person more upset by a poor quality script evaluation from us than you is me. If you haven't already, you should get in touch with us and let us know about your poor quality evaluation. If your complaint has merit, we'll be happy to give you a free month of hosting and replace the evaluation at no additional charge.
In your opinion, should a person write a safe text book script as a sample to get screenwriting gigs or write a risky spec script? I feel every screenwriter hits this crossroad and decides upon one of the two. The obvious answer would be a professional combination of the two, but I'd love to read your thoughts on the subject.
You've answered your own question. Write something amazing. Period.
1) We hear a lot about the success of the film side of the Blacklist however, how has the TV fared? Has anything been sold?
There has not yet been a TV pilot sold via the Black List website, though I don't find this terribly surprising. Unlike selling a feature film script, where you're just selling the script, selling a television show means selling the pilot and the ability to generate dozens more after the fact.
There have been success stories from the TV side of the site though. Among them, a writer staffed on "Hannibal," another selected for the inaugural Sundance episodic story lab, and another whose pilot was shot as part of Issa Rae's new company Color Creative.
"How do you feel about all the many schemes such as screenwriting competitions that seem to be designed to offer nothing in return for taking money from wannabe screenwriters?"
There are screenwriting competitions that offer quite a bit. The Nichol and Austin Film Festival spring to mind. As for the others, especially if they're explicitly designed to offer nothing in return for taking money from wannabe screenwriters, I find them despicable.
Would it be possible to see data on types of films that receive high/low/mediocre rating? Genre, protagonists race/age/gender adaptation vs original story, etc. I know it wouldnt take into account over "quality" of writing, but it would still be interesting to get a whole look at what is being submitted.
We haven't done this analysis yet, but it's on the docket. Give us some time.
1. Will The Black List ever show unique downloads? It would be nice to have that along with the non-unique data for those of us curious if it's the same person downloading repeatedly or multiple users.
We do show unique download numbers. You should email us, and we'll get you sorted.
2. Regarding paid readers, is there a standard range of deviation you see between their ratings and those of industry members? Also, do you know what percentage of industry members rate scripts that they've downloaded?
Typically, about 1 in 7 downloads result in a rating from an industry member. Generally, industry members rate a bit higher than our paid readers, but that's likely because industry professionals are generally downloading and rating only higher rated scripts (as compared to our paid readers.)
The amount of scripts on the site has exponentially expanded. And not, in my opinion, gotten better.
Have any of the new scripts (within the last year) found an ... agent? .. producer? .. company? Any success stories?
I think it's safe to assume that your sample size of the scripts that are hosted isn't representative of the site as a whole. As for success stories, there have been enough that we've lost track and people have stopped telling us about them when they happen.
1) Can you describe the typical industry audience for scripts on the site? Are they production companies/producers looking for material, agents or managers looking for people to rep? Assistants looking for the right material to help them make the jump? In other words, who is most likely to see the work?
All of the above. Also studio, financier, and network executives looking for material. Ditto some directors and actors.
2) There was some initial publicity when the site first launched and some recent TV deals, but I haven't seen many announcements for feature scripts or writers that have been discovered through the site. Can you share some recent success stories?
Easily my favorite recent success story would be this one. From Apple store Genius to screenwriter of the I AM LEGEND prequel for Warner Bros in about seven months.
3) If you have a script with a high rating, but perhaps not enough reviews to qualify for the spotlight emails, what ways do you recommend a writer use the rating to get views and read requests?
One overall rating of 8 or better from one of our paid readers qualifies you for the weekly spotlight email. Ditto an 8 or better in a category and genre that an individual industry has specified interest.
4) Is there a genre or type of material that's being sought on the site more than others? (i.e. comedy, horror, low-budget, etc.)
We haven't done this analysis recently, but I'd check out our first year annual report. It'll give you a pretty good idea of how the site is being used.