The Black List's Paid Screenplay Service Reveals Key Data from First Month

A month ago, when the Black List launched its new paid screenplay service to provide aspiring screenwriters with access to industry professionals, I had some concerns. After hearing Franklin Leonard discuss the service in more detail with John August and Craig Mazin on their ScriptNotes podcast, I was more encouraged, but still not sold 100%. More specifically, I voiced my hope that Leonard and his team at The Black List would not only share successes of the service, but would also provide statistics about the service that would provide aspiring screenwriters with data they could use to make informed decisions about paying for this new service. I'm happy to report that on the heels of sharing its first success story, The Black List has done almost exactly what I asked.

Here's what I wrote in a post back on Oct. 24:

A new screenwriter will be discovered from The Black List’s new paid service eventually, and we will hear about it. Personally, in addition to the inevitable announcement of success, I hope Franklin Leonard and his team at The Black List continue their effort at transparency and will share statistics with aspiring screenwriters not only about their own submissions, but also about the total number of screenplays in the database and how they are ranked. If The Black List is asking aspiring screenwriters to pay for the service on an ongoing basis, The Black List should be willing to share and update its aggregate data to defend its value proposition on an ongoing basis as well.

Honestly, as I typed those words, I did not expect The Black List to live up to this request (I'd be presumptuous to think they ever even read it), so I was pleasantly surprised when our own Joe Marine forwarded me a report from The Black List titled "Month One" full of statistics outlining the total number of screenplays submitted to the database and how they are ranked.

For those of you who appreciate data like I do (yes, I'm a nerd), you should check out the full Black List Month One report, which includes several infographics. Here are some highlights from the report:

1,115 screenplays were submitted to the new Black List paid service in the first month, with the mean rating of 5.26 and a standard deviation of 1.90.

Essentially, the rating of the submissions for the first month follows a bell curve, but as we can see from the graph, there is a sharp decline in screenplays rating above the standard deviation. In other words, if you submit your screenplay to The Black List's paid screenplay service and pay for a rating, you want to score above 7.16 to stand out from the pack.

Source: The Black List

Premises tend to get a higher overall rating than plot, characters and dialogue.

The mean rating of all premises was 5.57 (standard deviation 1.83), while the mean rating for all plots was 4.74 (s.d. 1.98), all characters was 5.06 (s.d. 2.08), and all dialogue was 4.87 (s.d. 2.01). I interpret this data to mean that on the whole, aspiring screenwriters may come up with good story premises, but may not be able to execute the craft well enough to convey the story.

Two-thirds of screenplays with two or more paid reads had an average absolute deviation of less than one point.

I think this statistic is very important for everyone currently using or considering using The Black List's paid screenplay service. For me, this statistic reveals that it really isn't worth paying for more than one read of your screenplay, even if you disagree with the initial rating, because you are very likely to get a similar rating. Don't waste your money.

995 scripts have been downloaded by industry professionals. 13.9% have been rated.

I wish I had a little more information regarding these two data points. From The Black List's report, it is unclear whether a total of 995 downloads have occurred from the database, or if 995 separate screenplays have been downloaded. Based on the bell curve above, I tend believe its the former as highly-rated scripts would likely receive several downloads while poorly-rated would likely receive little to no downloads. This is merely conjecture, however, because The Black List hasn't specified exactly what they mean when they say 995 scripts have been downloaded.

Perhaps more interesting is only 13.9% of screenplays downloaded by industry professionals have been rated. The Black List has algorithms to promote screenplays to members based on the screenplay ratings and the member preferences. If members don't contribute to the ratings, then paid reads become much more important. I'd be very curious to see this statistic over the next several months. I have a feeling it will increase somewhat as members get through their backlog of screenplays to read (one month isn't much time), but I also think this number could ultimately remain low for several reasons. If an industry professional thinks a script is hot, do they want the entire community to know that? Are industry professionals really compelled to log back into The Black List to share their ratings on all of the screenplays they have downloaded or do they spend their time on other pursuits?

One final note related to these statistics: I would be curious to know if industry professionals have downloaded any screenplays with no ratings based purely on their genres and loglines, and if so, how many and in which genres.

Comedy, drama and thriller are the most commonly downloaded genres among industry professionals.

This information could be a little misleading because these three genres are also the most commonly uploaded to The Black List's screenplay service. According to The Black List's report, however, it looks like the most uploaded genre is drama while the most downloaded genre is comedy, so we could infer that industry professionals currently have a preference for comedies. I'm not sure this is statistically significant, and certainly these data points could change with the seasons, so I wouldn't infer too much from the differences. It looks like screenwriters are submitting screenplays for the genres they see selling in the marketplace.

I would like to thank The Black List for providing this data in its ongoing effort to provide transparency for its new paid screenplay service, and I hope they continue to provide this data and more as their service grows. I know it certainly helps me to make an informed decision whether or not to submit a screenplay to The Black List (full disclosure: I have not submitted a screenplay to The Black List yet, but I will let you know if and when I do).

What stands out for you in the data from first month of The Black List's paid screenplay service? Does this data encourage or discourage you from submitting a screenplay to The Black List? Let us know in the Comments.

Link: The Black List - Month One report

Your Comment



How much does it cost to get one screenplay read and rated at TBL?

November 23, 2012 at 6:36AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Hey Samuel,

Check out my original post about The Black List's screenplay service. It should answer your question:

November 23, 2012 at 10:47AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Christopher Boone

Doesn't Triggerstreet provide the same for free?

November 23, 2012 at 7:02AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The BlackList uses paid, professional readers. I don't believe that's the case with TriggerStreet. I think the BL readers are pretty tough to please, too (which, on the whole, is a good thing).

They gave my comedy script a 7:

You're welcome to check it out.

November 24, 2012 at 5:18PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Comedy, Drama, and Thriller. I posted a Western. D'oh!

November 25, 2012 at 12:40AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Just a quick note on this: "Two-thirds of screenplays with two or more paid reads had an average absolute deviation of less than one point."

Yes, you can get a good sense of your rating from one read; however, if you do happen to get a good rating, it won't be included on the Top List unless it's had at least two ratings to average from.

But I do recommend any fellow writers to pay for only one read at a time. If you get a 5 the first read, that 5 will stick with you and drag down your average on any later reads. It's better to revise then upload it as a new script, starting fresh.

December 3, 2012 at 7:02PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Michel Hulsey

this is a great article. i found a free e-book, that reminds me of this, it can be found on

December 4, 2012 at 2:27PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Tyrone Baker

I'm an unknown writer. I posted my script on TBL about 22 hrs ago now. I only had 2 views since 5:50PM yesterday 2-17-14. I paid for one read; but there have been no downloads so far. I wish maybe I'd written my logline a little differently and maybe wasn't so conservative with relating it to more than Drama, Adventure Drama, in the genre area.

From your superior knowledge:
Are those on the average bad signs after 22 hours? Are the aspects I mention probably the reason hardly anyone is even taking a view? Does "view" mean they read a few pages of my script then backed away; or does it mean they just looked at my logline and the list of tags I checked to describe my story content? I researched some before I leaped with one of my scripts and seems they are a good site and even Writers Guild having some kind of link to them... which seems they must be very fair to writers.

February 18, 2014 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Mike Jensen

The Black List is a complete waste of your time and money. I had four scripts evaluated -- one got an 8 rating in terms of character and 6 overall. The reader criticized me for missing a plot point, but the plot point was CLEARLY right there in the script. Another script -- first-rate and professional in every respect -- was actually given a 1 rating because the reader was offended by the lesbian subject matter. Even had the script been awful, which it was not (in fact, it's excellent), no script deserves to be rated a one. The reader's analysis of the script was seething with hostility. The other two scripts got 5s overall, but they are way better than that. And it's apparent that quite apart from plot and dialogue, the bulk of these so-called readers can't seem to connect on an emotional basis with the content of the scripts. I yanked the fifth script before they could evaluate it, knowing it would be a complete waste of money. The Black List insists it culls its evaluators from the front ranks of agency and production company readers, but the reality is that most of these readers, even at the large agencies, are just there for make-pretend screening purposes. I visited William Morris in Beverly Hills many years ago because I knew a sub-agent there, and what they do is kick script submissions down to mailroom personnel to read and evaluate. So, regarding The Black List -- or The Hack List as I prefer to call it -- do not waste your time or money.

November 13, 2015 at 12:18PM

Ronald Micci

Guys, I'm not surprised by results reported by TBL, that the best statistic is for story premises but writing craft suffers. As a long-time script consultant for film producers, Austin Film Festival, writing competitions, etc., I see that same pattern 99.9 % of the time. The gap between strong concept and well developed story elements is rarely small. -- James C. Peters

October 11, 2016 at 3:46PM


December 29, 2018 at 10:39PM