Monday, October 15, 2012

Why every aspiring writer should be excited about Black List 3.0

I'll say this for Franklin Leonard, he doesn't do anything small.

The Black List creator has just announced a new feature to the Black List website, dubbed Black List 3.0.  Just last week, membership to the Black List website was made free for all industry pros.  Currently the site has a tracking board of sorts, where those industry pros are able to rate scripts that are listed within the database.  (The scripts themselves are not stored, just the identifying information like title, writer, representation, attachments and so on.)

But the big move has come this week.  Starting soon, non-pros will be able to pay a fee to make their scripts available on the Black List site.  For an additional fee, the script can be covered by trusted industry readers, who will then evaluate and rate the script.  Thus, if I upload my spec BIG ROOSTERS & SOAKED KITTENS and pay both fees, the following will happen:

First, a Black List approved reader will read the entire script and rate it according to the sites metrics.  As expected the coverage will also detail the genre/s and most likely the budget of the script.  Then, that information will be made available in the database for as long as I pay the monthly fee.

(And let's be realistic, the fees are necessary if any industry readers worth their salt are going to take their time to read these submissions.  It's just simple economics - if you want quality gatekeepers, they're going to need to have some compensation for their time.)

So let's say the Black List writer really liked my low-to-mid budget comedy and gave it a score that averaged out to 8.5 out of 10.  Every member who searches for a script with those parameters will have access to my script, my coverage and my contact information.  So for the price of a late submission to a prestigious contest, I could end up with a script request from a major company or two.  Or ten.

And here's where the real brilliance of Mr. Leonard's scheme comes in.  The Black List is a brand that everyone in town knows.  It is perhaps the most coveted insider list and it's spawned more than a few imitators.  People trust the Black List... and Mr. Leonard just made access to the site completely free for them.  At present, I'm told there are over 1,100 industry pros signed up as members.

I don't care how many tracking boards most development people are already signed up for.  If something like this is free, they're gonna sign up for it, if only to have the inside track on the next Black List.  By doing this, it practically guarantees that The Black List will have a higher quality of clientele than something like InkTip.

Granted, InkTip is a little cheaper at $60 for six months, but there all you're posting is the logline.  At BL 3.0, there's a gatekeeper there who's going to play town crier for anything worth while.

This also solves the problem with Triggerstreet.  Over there, users can post their scripts for free... but they're only being read and rated by other community members.  Thus, there's less of a chance those readers will have the same discerning tastes as readers who work within the industry and in a worst case scenario, it could be the blind leading the blind.

And then there's Amazon Studios.  Look, you all know what I think of the site by now.  I think Black List 3.0 totally demolishes Amazon in every fashion.  Sure, Amazon was also free... but at the cost of giving them a temporary exclusive option and the right to buy the script for a predetermined price.  Plus, does anyone think Amazon's actually going to get a feature film released?

With the Black List, you're getting your material in front of people who've actually made real movies before - not dilettantes who were fixated on producing test films.  You own the script, you (or your representation) has full ability to negotiate the sale.  The Black List doesn't gloom onto your work at all.  They don't option it, they don't attach themselves as producers.  Their involvement goes only as far as making the introduction possible.  (They're basically going "Oprah, Uma.  Uma, Oprah.")

And let's talk contests and fellowships.  As we've talked about before, most contests are probably going to run you between $40-$75.  In most of those cases, that's just the fee to enter.  You rarely get coverage or anything else.  We've also mentioned that there are few contests that are really strong at jump-starting careers.  It's my supposition that you'll probably have access to more real industry insiders through The Black List than through most contest submissions.  Even if the cost for a month of posting is a little more than a contest submission, the potential benefit far outweighs that.

And then let's not forget the coverage/scouting services that evaluate your script and promise to pass it to their contacts if it's deemed good enough.  Coverage from ScriptShark will run you $149. Script Pipeline charges $350.  And then there's a lone reader out there who's currently charging $1000 a read.  (The cherry on top of that is that he also is trying to be a manager and a producer.  No one should ever have to pay either of those sorts of professionals for a read, as that's stepping into some very murky ethical territory.)

So if you're one of the people who would pay to enter a contest, or who would pay those huge fees just for coverage and the barest promise of "access," you should be jumping for joy about Black List 3.0.  It seems like a good idea on it's own, but when you put it in context with all the other "breaking into Hollywood" services there are, this has the potential to be a clear winner.

It's basically a Voltron of everything good about Triggerstreet, InkTip, Amazon Studios and most contests, with very little of the most derided aspects of those services.

I saw a lot of negativity about this venture last month when details started leaking out on Deadline.  That disappoints me for a lot of reasons, chiefly because I think this is unquestionably one of the best opportunities to come along for aspiring writers in a long time.  I see a lot of potential here and a lot of opportunity.  But opportunism?  No, I don't feel that at all.

I don't know Franklin well.  I've only met him a couple of times and have mostly communicated now and then via email and Twitter.  I can say that he's struck me as an incredibly intelligent and above board professional and I'm truly convinced he has the best of intentions with this site.

But I know that there will be a lot of questions about this, so I've reached out to Franklin Leonard and I'll be posting an EXCLUSIVE video interview with him tomorrow!  (That's right - that means the creator of the Black List is going to submit to questioning by a puppet!) Spread the word and come back tomorrow to see me interrogate Franklin about Black List 3.0


Go Into The Story: New Black List Feature for aspiring writers
Amanda Pendolino: The Black List Launches services for aspiring writers
The What, How, and Why of the Black List: The Long Answer by Franklin Leonard
Screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe with "My Thoughts on the Black List Project"


  1. A better explanation than even on The Black List website.


  2. You glossed over a key point --

    "First, a Black List approved reader will read the entire script and rate it according to the sites metrics. As expected the coverage will also detail the genre/s and most likely the budget of the script. Then, that information will be made available in the database for as long as I pay the monthly fee."

    As far as I understand it, they only post the information if the writer agrees to go forward. Which means if a writer gets not so hot coverage, the writer has the opportunity to pull the script. Which is more than you can say the other places we're tracked.

    1. You're correct, and this IS something that is covered in the interview tomorrow.

  3. Hi TBSR,

    I'm hoping your interview touched on the fact that a single reader will be deciding a script's rating. Reading by its nature is subjective, and there are good readers and bad readers. I'm sure most readers handle themselves professionally but who's to say that this single reader approached the material objectively? As individuals, we all have genres and styles of writing that we prefer. To think that a single reader will decide the fate of one's script sounds ill-conceived. That's not to say that all poor scripts deserve higher ratings, but there's a reason that statistics recognizes sample size. Shouldn't there be an appeal mechanism? an additional charge for a second reader perhaps? or at least 2-3 readers per script? Sure, one can argue that a single read is all you'd get at most production companies, but this read will forever determine the ranking of your script in front of potentially ALL production companies. You've now limited yourself from dozens of potential reads to a single read. Why would I want to do that? And couldn't this put the jobs of individuals like yourself in jeopardy?

    1. Much of this is addressed in some fashion in the interview. For the aspects that aren't, I'll try to deal with them later this week.

    2. Great, thanks! Reading more into it, it seems that the script is open to further rating by the membership, so I guess the initial read is more of a first-pass -- though that read still stands to have heavy influence? Still a little confused but I'll check back tomorrow.

    3. Actually it looks like Franklin already covered a lot of your bigger concerns about this over at Done Deal Pro:

      "you could pay for as many reads as you want and only make the positive ones visible, but the content of those evaluations would still be considered as far as the "top lists" material by that description.

      An extreme example, I buy 100 reads. 2 of them, miraculously, are good. 8s out of 10. The other 98 are terrible. 2s out of 10. I could choose to only publish the 2 positive reviews, but there'd be considerably less traffic drawn to my script by the Black List algorithm than there would be to a script that, say, had only 2 paid reads that were 8s out of 10.

      As a matter of policy, we "do no harm." The attention of industry professional members is only drawn to a script if either 1. one of our readers likes it. 2. many of our industry pros like it and rate it highly or 3. our recommendation algorithm things that individual industry pro will like the script based on their taste.

      If the script's getting bad ratings, you should probably take it down, but the site isn't going to spoil your reputation because you've written a bad script. It's going to inform you that the ratings are bad and that no one particularly wants to read it, but it's not going to inform anyone else of that fact."

  4. Wow. Thanks- checking it out now!