Black-listFor the uninitiated, The Black List compiles a list of the "most liked" unproduced screenplays according to the opinions of studio and production executives and their readers. At the time of The Black List's publication in December each year, many of the scripts on the list have been acquired and are either in production or active development toward production. Getting a script listed on The Black List certainly boosts a screenwriter's credentials within the industry and can lead to more work. Now, the people behind The Black List have launched a new paid service for aspiring screenwriters trying to get their screenplays in the hands of industry professionals. Here are the details:

  • For $25/month, The Black List will host and index your screenplay on its database.
  • The Black List professional readers will read and evaluate your screenplay for $50/evaluation.
  • Based on the evaluations, industry professionals registered with The Black List can find screenplays they want to read. Evaluations are only made public to The Black List membership if the screenwriter chooses to make them public (part of The Black List's "do no harm" to screenwriters policy).
  • Screenwriters will be able to track, in real time, the volume of traffic to their script, including number of views of their script page, number of downloads, and number of ratings from industry professionals.
  • If an industry professional discovers a screenplay via the service, The Black List does not take a producer's credit or finder's fee.

For aspiring screenwriters, getting industry professionals to read screenplays can be difficult. What's the best thing an aspiring screenwriter can do to overcome this obstacle? Write a great screenplay. Sounds obvious. I know. Sounds simple. It's not. But more than anything (including The Black List's new service), writing a great screenplay will help you get your screenplay read.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of paying for industry access (unless perhaps you are not paying for access, but instead donating to a good cause and get access as thank you for your donation). On the surface, $25/month doesn't sound like much, but if you don't pay $50 for an evaluation, how are industry professionals going to find your script in the database? So, the true entry fee is $75. If the evaluation is positive, the writer can then consider how long to keep the script on the site, which means the writer is most likely in for more than $100. If the evaluation is negative, the writer can take the script down from The Black List site, and perhaps rewrite the script based on the evaluation (hopefully it was worth $75) or simply move on. I imagine that's exactly what The Black List hopes will happen, so their database only contains scripts worth reading for industry professionals, but they get enough aspiring screenwriters to submit for evaluations to make it a viable business venture.

I certainly give Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, a lot of credit for answering questions about the new service on the Done Deal Pro forum and other venues, trying his best to make the service clear and transparent. He welcomes skepticism and lively debate about the service, and is doing his best to explain the service's benefits and its possible limitations at launch.

There are other ways for aspiring screenwriters to get their screenplays read by industry professionals, but they are based on screenwriters writing a great screenplay first. I can speak from experience here because my screenplay, Cents, is a 2012 Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist, one of 129 out of 7,197 screenplays submitted (and no, it's not the fraternity a cappella comedy screenplay I recently posted online for your reading pleasure in case you thought the first five pages were garbage - but maybe now you'll go back and read it in its entirety. Hey, it's written by a Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist!). When the Nicholl Fellowship announced the ten finalists for this year's competition, they also made the contact information for all of the finalists, semifinalists and quarterfinalists available to industry professionals. As a result, I have received a handful of requests so far (maybe a dozen) for my script's logline and the screenplay itself from a variety of management and production companies, some well known, others a bit less so. Do I expect my screenplay to sell? That's probably best answered in a separate post. The point is, industry professionals want to read my screenplay now because a reputable source (i.e. Nicholl Fellowship) said it was good, after it was read at least nine separate times by readers and other industry professionals.

To be fair, I had to pay an entry fee for the Nicholl Fellowship - $35 for the early entry fee. The Nicholl Fellowship, however, is not a moneymaking venture. According to the Nicholl website, in 2011, the program received $272,000 in entry fees. The program distributed $175,000 to the winning fellows, and spent over $200,000 judging the entries. In other words, thank you, Don and Gee Nicholl, for your generosity.

So, did I pay for access? I guess you can say, yes, I did pay for access. But I was happy to support the Nicholl Fellowship, who in turn is now supporting me and several other screenwriters through the connections we have made as a result of this year's competition and competitions of years past. Perhaps that's how other screenwriters will see The Black List's service - something they are happy to support financially for the chance to gain access to industry professionals.

Do you know what else I had to do before paying the Nicholl entry fee? I had to work really hard to write a good screenplay. It wasn't easy. It didn't happen quickly. It wasn't the first script I ever wrote, not even close. And it certainly wasn't the first draft. Or second. Or third (okay, you get the point).

Like many aspiring screenwriters, I too get frustrated with the difficulty of gaining access to the industry. I chalk up my lack of access to two things:

  1. I need to become a better screenwriter.
  2. I have chosen not to live in Los Angeles.

I don't want to move to L.A. at this point in my life, so I may never become a professional screenwriter - a reality I am willing to accept to live where I want to live and write where I want to write. I can become a better screenwriter, though, and so can you. If I become a better screenwriter, I know more people in the industry will want to read my scripts. Thanks to the Nicholl Fellowship, I happen to have some of their contact information, and they happen to have mine.

Maybe your path will be through The Black List's new service - as long as you have a great script, of course.

What do you think about The Black List's new service? Will you submit your screenplay for hosting and evaluation? Do you think The Black List offers a good value proposition for aspiring screenwriters? Let's discuss in the Comments.