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5 Lessons Screenwriters Can Learn from The Black List 2012 (Plus 2 Bonus Lessons!)

12.18.12 @ 10:45AM Tags : , , ,

Each year, The Black List surveys approximately 300 film executives and asks them to name up to ten of their favorite screenplays from the current calendar year that have yet to begin principal photography. The votes are tallied and published in order of screenplays with the most votes in, well, The Black List. As Franklin Leonard and his team at The Black List put it: “The Black List is not a ‘best of’ list. It is, at best, a ‘most liked’ list.” So, why should we care? Well, if you’re a screenwriter fortunate enough to have a screenplay on The Black List 2012, your stock just went up in Hollywood. If you’re a screenwriter outside of the system, The Black List can provide insights into what storylines, concepts and genres have recently made the rounds, picked up producers and found financing. In addition to the list itself (link below), here are five lessons screenwriters can learn from The Black List 2012:

First, you can download a PDF of The Black List from their website, assuming you weren’t glued to your Twitter feed for the live announcement of The Black List screenplays in random order. It was definitely a different way to make the announcement, that much is true, and I’ll admit posting the screenwriters’ Twitter handles was a nice touch. Now, on to the lessons:

Lesson 1: Several quirky coming-of-age scripts and historical drama scripts are making the rounds, which means these genres are currently quite competitive.


Mind you, I haven’t read any of these scripts, so my assumptions about the scripts’ genres are based solely on the loglines. These assumptions may be incorrect, so forgive me for my unscientific analysis. That said, this year’s list seems to have a fair number of coming-of-age screenplays, most of which sound quirky (Juno, anyone?), as well as several historical dramas – either little known true stories, interesting facets of well-known historical moments or purely revisionist histories (Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, anyone?). If you write screenplays in either of these genres, take a look at these loglines and make sure your screenplay is unique and very well-written to stand out from the crowd, or you may consider moving on to other genres for the coming year.

Lesson 2: Loglines matter. Here are 78 for you to study to make yours better.

A number of The Black List’s Twitter followers have noted that this year’s crop of loglines are especially good. You may not like all of them or even agree with that assessment, but I would argue that most of these loglines do an excellent job of quickly and concisely conveying the concept and story of their respective screenplays. Loglines are crucial to pitching and selling your screenplay. We work so hard to tell great stories with our screenplays, and we should work just as hard to write great loglines to pitch those stories.

Lesson 3: This is an insider list (or, If you want to get your script read by a lot of film executives, you’ll need an agent, manager, or both).

Of the 78 screenplays on this year’s Black List, only one has no agent or manager listed (Doppelgangers by Evan Mirzai & Shea Mirzai), but this exception does have a production company attached (The Walt Becker Company). Film executives in Hollywood read scripts from known and respected agents and managers. If you want to get on The Black List, first, write an amazing screenplay. Second, convince an agent or manager to represent you (just don’t ask me how you get an agent or manager – I got nothing for you on that except that I know it starts with writing a great screenplay. And another, and another). This lesson also means you won’t see some original, inventive screenplays ever make this list, screenplays that manage to find their way onto the screen through truly independent means to surprise and move audiences.

Lesson 4: You can have the most liked screenplay on The Black List, but that doesn’t stop it from going into turnaround.

This year’s most liked screenplay, Draft Day by Rajiv Joseph & Scott Rothman, was put into turnaround by Paramount this fall. Last year’s most liked screenplay, The Imitation Game by Graham Moore, lost leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Brothers this past August (although it looks like the project now has a new director, production companies, and financing attached). The point is, Hollywood may love a screenplay, but getting any screenplay produced is an uphill battle.

Lesson 5: You can cross over from the paid Black List service to the actual Black List.

Recently, The Black List announced the first success from its recently launched paid service for screenwriters to get their scripts in front of industry executives. CAA signed scribe Justin Kremer after his screenplay McCarthy ranked highly on The Black List paid service and got the attention of several film executives. According to The Black List 2012, eleven of those executives voted Kremer’s McCarthy one of their ten favorite screenplays of the year.

And for sticking around this long, here are two bonus lessons we can learn from The Black List 2012:

Bonus Lesson 1: It’s good to be Brad Ingelsby.

Mr. Ingelsby had not one, but two screenplays on The Black List 2012: All-Nighter and Hold on to Me. Well done, Mr. Ingelsby, well done.

Bonus Lesson 2: These are the types of screenplays Hollywood liked this year. Next year, The Black List may look totally different.

Trends come and go, so we shouldn’t make too much of the types of screenplays that were popular this year with Hollywood executives (yes, despite what I mentioned in Lesson 1). We could certainly analyze the films that were successful at the box office this year and see if there was any correlation to the genres of scripts that Hollywood executives voted as their favorites this year, but I’m not going to do that. A great screenplay with an original voice and a captivating story, regardless of genre and current box office trends, will typically rise to the top and get noticed. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will get made (see Lesson 4), or even make it on to The Black List (see Lesson 3), but it should get noticed.

If you want to hear more directly from several of the screenwriters on The Black List 2012, check out the Twitter Q&A today (Dec. 18) at 11 am PST/2 pm EST, hashtag #BlackList2012.

What are the lessons you have learned from The Black List 2012 or lists from previous years? Share with us in the Comments.

Link: The Black List 2012

Related Posts

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  2. The Black List's New Paid Service Aims to Connect Screenwriters with Industry Professionals
  3. The Black List Announces First Success Story for New Screenplay Service, Writer Signs With CAA

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  • Re: Lesson 3, yes — TBL is voted upon by agents and managers, so it’s not a “discovering outsiders” list by any means. Your script already has to be making the rounds in Hollywood in some form.

    • Agree…
      and Maybe.
      4) The Black List is simply turning a little more into a marketing tool to promote the titles that the majors already have under development or about to debut, to generate ‘hype’ looking to make box office, or to collect prizes.

      Only maybe…

  • William Bean on 12.18.12 @ 2:10PM

    “A number of The Black List’s Twitter followers have noted that this year’s crop of loglines are especially good.”

    Seriously?! Were they being sarcastic? The first thing that hit me was how terrible the loglines were. One of them even mentions the story taking place against the backdrop of Portland. Since when does the mention of Portland make you want to read a script? Another one was about a jazz band competition or something. And what of the five scripts about Nazis?!

    • And why is Neapolitan ice cream still being produced and why is Justin Bieber popular…? No offence to Neapolitan ice cream.

      I’ve learned to stop questioning the reasoning of the masses and just try to figure out what sells (when that is the end-game).

  • Great article! Thanks for the link!

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