Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Black List Pay Site: One Writer's Experience

Franklin Leonard was a development exec who one afternoon had a brilliant idea: Let me poll the various development execs around town I know about the best unproduced screenplays they'd read that year and compile the information.   Using the name "Black List" as both an homage to those who suffered after the House on Un-American Activities acted fairly Un-American toward writers with leftist political views or associations and a commentary on 'black' as the default word carrying negative connotations (remember the scene in MALCOLM X with the diciontary?), the list went out to those who participated and that was that.   But it wasn't.

The Black List circulated all over town and became an annual event.   Writers wanted to make the list.  Agents and managers wanted their clients on it.   Production companies had their readers cover every script that made the list.   Trades began following the results and publishing the 'winners.'  Films were made.   Careers were born.   Several years went by.

Enter Black List 2.0.

What if ANY writer had a shot to make the Black List?   How?   Upload your script.   $25 a month and it's part of the database.   Pay $50 for one review (or $50 more per additional) and a pro coverage score will be attached to the project.   This will allow producers, agents, managers to find that undiscovered gem.  

Great idea?   Yes.  There are 6,000+ scripts already uploaded.

One participant in the BL 2.0 is Lauri Donohue.   Her screenplay WHIPLASH is posted on the site.  It received an initial score of 9.5/10 (amazing; top 1%) and has fluctuated a bit since then.   Each professional that reads and scores posts a number rating and the rating/ranking changes with the new scoring.   Nevertheless, she's hung near the top and gotten downloads. 

Lauri lives in Israel (one of her questions was recently featured on the great John August/Craig Mazin podcast) so she's not able to knock on doors and network in Los Angeles except online.   She was selected a year or so ago to do a rewrite for an Amazon Studios project (ZOMBIES VS. GLADIATORS).

Here's my Q&A with her about the Black List site.   Many potential customers likely have these or similar questions.   I welcome further discussion in the COMMENTS.

1. Did you pay for one, two, or three initial reviews?

Paid for one review for each script. I posted two scripts initially, then two more after I got the 9. All other ratings were free from "pro" members of the community. (These pro ratings don't come with reviews.)

2. Are the reviews posted with the script publicly?

The writer can decide whether or not to make reviews and ratings public. You can decide on a case-by-case basis for the paid reviews. For the ratings, you either make public the average or you don't. You can still get on the top 15 without making the average public.

3. What is the minimum number of months you must post your script?

One, or a fraction. You can take it down at any time. You need to pay for one month ($25) regardless.

4. Any way to ax the reviews if you don't like them?

You can chose not to make them public. If something is REALLY off (for example, the initial review of Herod described it as a comedy and complained it didn't have enough jokes) Franklin is responsive; in my case, he apologized, took the review down, and offered me both a free additional review and a free month of hosting.

5. Are reviews taken down once script removed?

I assume so, since they're linked to the script. I don't see any way they could keep them up.

6. You're getting reads. Do you know which prod co read the script?

No way to tell. And it's not just prodcos -- I think it's mostly reps and assistants. (This is not to diss assistants -- they're very important and can spot good scripts and get them to their bosses.)

7. If yes to 6, are you allowed to follow up off the site?


8. Have you gotten any "we can't make this but we like the writing / what else ya got?" requests?

No requests, contacts at all. But 2 of the other scripts have also gotten downloads. Don't know whether this is because the 9 for WL caused people to look at what else I had posted.

9. How much financially should a writer be prepared to invest in each BL posting? Looks like $75 is minimum. If you want multiple reviews and a couple a months, it's $200 per script.

Yes, $75 minimum. I don't see any point of just paying the $25 hosting fee without the review because the odds are the script won't get noticed. And if you don't get an 8 or up, I'm not sure it's worth keeping a script up there. (Unless you also have a higher-rated script up that could generate "referrals.")

10. Have you used the high rating to send out queries for your other scripts?

Not queries per se, but did send an email to several dozen industry contacts. Got a few nice emails back, once of which led to a call from a top-3 agency asking to read my newest thriller (not on the BL).

11. Are you allowed to post portions of the positive reviews to query other scripts, managers, agents, prod cos off site?

There's nothing to prohibit this and I don't see how they'd stop you. In fact, I'd assume they'd encourage it since it draws attention to the BL.

12. Have you done any rewriting based on the notes you received?

no. the notes aren't very detailed, and I'm pretty happy with the script as-is.

13. Big risk (obviously was worth it for you) in publicly posted a script and coverage on a site like Black List. Might be a shortcut for a prod co to rely on the coverage posted there than giving a unique review. The reviews may be there forever, even if you've updated the script. It may be the take of only one or two readers that determines the fate of your script. How did you weigh these risks prior to submission?

They aren't there forever, and you can decide whether or not to make them public. No risk at all.

14. It would seem scripts with no current play (older script; script that hasn't attracted commercial attention) but is a good writing sample would be the ideal submission. Thoughts?

It's too early to say what, if anything, the BL is good for. I wish Franklin would post success stories/stats so we had more than vague anecdotal evidence of what's happening. I've heard of one person getting some meetings, one person getting a manager, but that's about it.

One thing to make VERY clear -- some people on Done Deal were talking like that 9 meant that I was on the brink of a sale. Even the person I talked to from the agency thought I must be getting a lot of calls.

But I haven't gotten any calls, emails, etc. after 12 days, 306 impressions, and 16 downloads. This could be because of the kind of people on the BL, it could be because of the script, or it could be because of "how the industry works" or something else. No way to tell.

Maybe something will happen for me with the BL and maybe it won't, but a good rating on the BL certainly isn't a guarantee of anything. It's just another lottery ticket -- not an EZ Pass. ;)

It's hard to sell stuff, period. The BL seems like a good idea and it might help. Or it might not. The jury is still out.

If you want to know about the  success stories, there's a thread here:

(Here is the review from BL for her screenplay WHIPLASH.    This is typical of the coverage for the Black List site but the score (a 9) is in the top 2%.   I post this not as a promo but so you get an idea of the coverage.   As you can see, it’s more brief summary notes rather than an in-depth analysis.   Those seeking full notes should vet their project elsewhere.)

This is for Whiplash:

Era: 1860's

Locations: New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; Kansas; Iowa; San Francisco, California

Budget: Blockbuster

Genre: Action & Adventure, Romantic Adventure, Western

Pages: 118

In the 1860’s, a teenage girl is orphaned when a heartless Northern General kills her brother during the Civil War. Given her talent with horses she masquerades as a boy and takes up stagecoach driving in order to track down the Northern General and avenge her brother’s death.

Charlie is an exciting heroine and watching her make her own success in such a difficult time is inspiring. Her developing relationship with Frank adds comedic sexual tension as she tries to appear tough despite her obvious interest in him. The historical aspects of this script are seamlessly incorporated and seem quite accurate. Additionally, the script is wonderfully paced with just the right combination of romance and adventure.

Charlie’s move from Boston to Iowa is kind of sudden and lacks a clear motivation. Directly prior to the move the stable hands teased her, but her earlier desire to move toward California is more likely the motivator. Connecting her decision to leave with her goal of reaching California could better signal the moment as the start of her journey.

“Whiplash” is an exhilarating romantic adventure with original characters and important historical significance. If produced this story could find success across all four quadrants but especially with women given such a strong female heroine as the lead character.

Thanks for the Q&A, Lauri.  Wish you the best of luck with the BL and your writing career!

Lauri’s Bio and Website:


v Eight feature scripts
v Two short scripts
v Three rewrite assignments
v Winner, More Magazine/Women in Film Screenplay Award
v Winner, Amazon Studios Script Spotlight Award
v Silver Prize, Page International Screenplay Competition
v Finalist, Harvardwood Screenplay Competition
v Semi-finalist (four times) and top-30 (twice), Nicholl Fellowship Competition
v Profiled in Script Magazine


v Winner, Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award
v Published by Baker’s Plays
v Work performed in the US, Canada, and Israel


v Studied writing, film, and theater at Harvard, UCLA, RADA, and the Vancouver Film School

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Stephen! Best in depth review of the new Blacklist 3.0 I've seen, other than Franklin's answering of questions at Done Deal Pro.