The Black List is a really helpful tool screenwriters can use to get noticed, but are you maximizing your potential within it?
Every time I get paid to write a screenplay or TV pilot I think about The Black List website. It was a burgeoning idea back in 2013 when I put my screenplay, Shovel Buddies, on the site.
For those of you who do not know, the Black List is a website where screenwriters can post their work and be assessed on their storytelling capabilities.
At the time, I invested $250, which got me three reviews and a few months of hosting. Those reviews came back with two 9s and a 10, and a year later I was on the actual Black List in Hollywood—a year after that, my script sold, and the following year we were in production on the movie.
My career has zigged and zagged since then. Peaks and valleys, as they say, but the Black List website was a really great entry point for me. Even though I was a Hollywood assistant and had connections, it helped people see my writing as something valuable and got me the support I needed to verify my worth.
I was able to flip it into an agent, manager, and lawyer—and as I mentioned above, a movie.
While that's not a guarantee for everyone, or probably even the 1% on the site now, I still think it's the best way for someone who does not work inside Hollywood to break into the industry.
So today I want to go over some tips on how to use the Black List, should you be so inclined.
Let's get started.
What is the Black List?
First, there are two different iterations of The Black List. One is an annual list where Hollywood people vote on the best unproduced scripts of the year. We aren't talking about that one.
The second is a website where you pay a fee to host your screenplay and get it ready by industry professionals with the goal of gaining representation. that feels much more up No Film School's alley.
The Black List describes itself as "a first access point for many emerging screenwriters who want to get their writing in front of industry members like agents, managers, and producers."
Sure, there are the repped writers and WGA members who upload their scripts there for feedback, but I would venture a guess to say the majority of people using the site are aspiring professionals.
Let's get the business stuff out of the way first before we get into the advice column. The Black List wants your script to get attention and get made because it will make them look good. This is not so much a business endorsement article as just a way to use the website better than I have seen most people use it.
What is the Black List Rating System?
Once your script is uploaded and you pay for a review, it's sent to one of the website's readers. They give it a grade from 1-10. One being the worst jumble of words ever and ten being Michael Clayton.
The ratings are tracked on the site, with the top scripts ranking for all to see.
Based on a few conversations I have had with agents and managers, they look at the top scripts, read their loglines, and then download them to see if they are any good. That's how they find clients on the site.
Long story short, the higher the ratings, the higher you rank, the more likely it is for someone to find you. And that's the website's advice as well, they say that "Having at least an 8 overall score will get you in our weekly industry email. Having at least 2 ratings whose weighted average is above the community average (which depends for each list) will get you on a top list depending on the time period."
What does The Black List cost?
At the end of the day, this is a service with very good intentions, one that has workshops and lifts up diverse and under-serviced voices. but it is also a service and a business that costs money.
So let's look into that.
In order to use the website, non-guild members must host at least one screenplay or pilot on the website to use it. That costs $30 a month. The only way to get a script evaluated is to host it on the site, so you can't just mail in and ask for evaluations.
I think that might be a big flaw in the website. No matter what, you have to pay $30 to host.
If you are a member of the WGA or an international equivalent, you are not required to host a script or purchase an evaluation but may do so at 20% off monthly hosting (and evaluations).
The hosting is the gateway, and there's a loophole. If you get five reviews that are all over 8s, you get a lifetime of free hosting on the website. And any script that receives even a score of 8+ from a paid reader evaluation will receive some free hosting and evaluations.
So you save money if your writing is good.
Still, reviews cost.
In order to get those coveted 8s, 9s, and 10s on the website, you need to buy a review. For feature scripts and one-hour pilots, the cost is $75. For half-hour pilots, the cost is $50. I think these prices are very fair. If you do not have friends who work in Hollywood and want an honest look at your talent, this is a great peek inside.
Also, The Black List is active on Twitter and will tweet out ALL scripts that have received an 8+ score from a paid reader evaluation within a given week. That's a great way to pick up agent and manager reads as well.
Why do people use The Black List?
The obvious reason is to try to break into Hollywood. Writing is hard, and this is a website where your voice and ideas can be celebrated, even if you have no connections in this town. The other reason, which maybe is less obvious, is to get a second opinion on your writing.
Sometimes my friends are busy, and I want another opinion, sometimes I want to hear the hard truth if a story is not working.
Agents and managers use the site to find new clients as well. And some producers peruse it as well, especially if they are looking for specific genres or sizes of movies, which can be easily sorted on their end.
Any Worries about The Black List?
One worry I have seen popping up online is the idea of making money off "the hope machine."
The Black List charges people for an opportunity to see their name in lights, even when the numbers are slim that the people using it will achieve that success. My opinion is that this is a harsh capitalistic truth of the business, and I would rather have someone making money off opportunities than only the rich and connected having those opportunities.
The other worry is the idea that The Black List is producing movies they found on the site. That might cause a conflict of interest.
To his credit, site founder and CEO Franklin Leonard said this after his company signed a multi-year financing deal, ”We will continue to run labs for screenwriters we find through the website, and continue the annual survey exactly the way we’ve done it in the past, and nobody owes us anything.”
This quote comes from a Deadline piece where he explains his stance on the matter and his eagerness to help movies and people that usually get overlooked get made. While I don't think that clears up every concern, it does not mean the website is not valuable to me. I think you just have to go in with a strategy to use the site in the best way possible.
As of right now, we have seen no cases of the conflict backfiring, though we will keep an eye on it.
Final Tips on How to Use the Black List Website
If I were going to try to use The Black List website to break into Hollywood, I would do the following: purchase a month of hosting and upload my best script. From there, I would buy one review.
If I got over an 8, then I would be in business. I would get a free review and another fee month of hosting. If the subsequent review came back an 8 or higher, amazing, If it came back a 7, I would then buy another review to see where that got me. If that came back an 8, I would continue this cycle. If it came back a 7 or lower, I would pull the script when my free month was up.
The reason is, I think you have to host the script on the website for at least six months to really get noticed. And I think you need your reviews to average at least a 7 or an 8 for agents and managers to notice. If you don't average that, I really think your chances of being found on there are low.
So how can you maximize your money?
Script Consultants and Feedback
One thing I hate in Hollywood are people who charge for their opinions on your script. Script consultants always feel like they are taking money and not really giving you anything but empty feedback. But I also understand that not everyone has Hollywood friends who can read their screenplays and give them cogent and useful notes.
Before you use The Black List, try to get as much feedback as you can on your screenplay.
You want to make sure you can get that 8, which makes it all worth it. If you have to spend a little money upfront, think of it as saving on hosting. This is not foolproof, this is still a subjective medium where anything can happen, but I would make my script as bulletproof as possible before uploading it, unless you don't care about spending the money.
Loglines and Tags
When you upload your script, you also upload a logline. Try to make that logline interesting and indicative to the genre.
You also tag your script with certain elements that people can use later to sort it into categories. Take your time with these and make sure you choose all the applicable ones. I see people rush through this stuff, and it will matter later. Just make sure the logline is easy to understand.
Sum It Up
At the end of the day, your performance on The Black List is on the quality of your script. You put in the effort writing it, and they put in the effort reviewing it. You want to get as many free months as possible, but you also want to leave your well-reviewed script on there for at least six months to try to catch a few peoples' eyes.
I am not the authority on the site, but it did help me become gainfully employed as a writer. Sure, I support myself with this site as well, but I know the site really helped me on the marathon that is becoming a professional writer in Hollywood.
It was the quick start I needed to be taken seriously.
I would love to hear the feedback from you on the site and how it has worked for you in the past. Let's start a discussion in the comments and help each other. Maybe you can find some free reads below.
We're all in this together.
I can't wait to hear what you write next.
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