For 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:
- I need to become a better screenwriter.
- 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.
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Great article, Christopher.
October 16, 2012 at 2:04PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
October 16, 2012 at 5:27PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Christopher, as a screenwriter trying to break into the industry, what are your thoughts on Amazon Studios? It seems they've optioned and possibly bought the rights to a number of concepts, but it doesn't look like they have anything in production or anything close to that. Would you think time would be better spent entering something like the Nicholl fellowship contest?
Speaking of which, congratulations on your success with the program. Also, would it be unlikely that people from countries like Australia (where I live) to be able to succeed in this competition, or is your comment about living in LA more in relation to having a career itself in Hollywood?
October 17, 2012 at 4:14AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Check out this post from June regarding Amazon Studios. I think it will answer your question:
As for success with the Nicholl Fellowship, you can live anywhere in the world and win (or advance in the rounds). I believe one of this year's 10 finalists is from South Africa. The judges for Nicholl don't know any author information (no name, no nothing) when they read the scripts. My comment about not living in LA refers to the inherent obstacle of being unable to meet face-to-face with studio and production executives on a regular basis, which is key to getting hired for writing assignments. As such, I focus on writing spec screenplays in the hopes that I can sell them one day - still, a major challenge living outside of LA with limited connections in the industry.
Hope that answers your questions. Now go write a good screenplay. Then rewrite it to make it better.
October 17, 2012 at 5:32AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Congrats on the semi finals. Nicholl seems to be the only competition where not winning can lead to success. I think Damon Lindeloff was a semi-finalist which is what launched his career.
Again, congratulations on that!
October 18, 2012 at 8:32AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Thanks, Jack. Time will tell how it helps my career. In the meantime, I keep writing and working on ways to turn my Nicholl semifinals script into a movie.
October 18, 2012 at 2:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
A friend forwarded me the info on the new Black List program and then I found your article here. Great insight. thanks for sharing.
October 19, 2012 at 12:04PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Thanks, Tim. Glad you found the post insightful.
October 20, 2012 at 5:47AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM