East, West, and Everything in Between: Another Big Step

Just over eight months ago, the Black List launched what we hoped would be the beginning of a paradigm shift in the way screenplays are discovered by people who make movies.  To mark the occasion, we published The What, The How, and The Why of the Black List: The Long Answer.

The basics were relatively simple.  After seven years of surveying Hollywood studio and production company executives to create an annual list that had yielded hundreds of success stories, we created an online infrastructure where great writing could be recognized more efficiently and promoted within an industry that is highly subjective and desperately in need of good screenplays.

Essentially, a real time Black List.

Approved industry professionals could rate the scripts they’d read. Those ratings would aggregate to create real-time, filterable, and sortable lists of the best-liked scripts in town and could further be used to make individualized recommendations based on our members’ tastes. In practical terms, if you were looking for a comedy with a producer attached and no financing yet in place, we could deliver, with a single click of your mouse or trackpad, a list of the industry’s best liked scripts by that description and another list based on the tastes of the member conducting the search.

We further expanded the site’s capabilities by allowing almost any writer in the world with an English language screenplay to upload their script to the site, have it evaluated by an experienced industry reader, and be contacted by our industry members (now numbering almost 2000) to discuss representation or involvement with their script if it caught someone’s fancy.

I am very pleased to report that thus far it’s been very successful.  More than 4800 screenplays have been uploaded to the site from all fifty states and forty countries.  Our readers have completed more than 6500 script evaluations, and there have been more than 8000 downloads of hosted scripts by industry professionals.

As a result, several dozen writers that we know of have found representation at major agencies and management companies, and there have been at least a dozen sales or options of scripts as a direct consequence of discoveries made on the site. Possibly most remarkably, the signings and sales weren’t limited to writers from Los Angeles or New York.

Far from it.  Richard Cordiner, an advertising executive from San Francisco, is now a professional screenwriter and former advertising executive with a two script blind deal at Warner Brothers.  Declan O’Dwyer sold his script BROKEN COVE to Basil Iwanyk from his home in Ireland, and Ryan Binaco, who currently lives in Sweden, sold his script 3022 to BCDF Pictures and optioned another as well.

Today the only real gap between being an aspiring professional screenwriter and a working professional screenwriter is being a good screenwriter, which is as it should be.

This morning we take another major step forward toward that paradigm shift with the announcement of a strategic alliance with the Writers Guild of America, West, a relationship that follows a similar one forged with the Writers Guild of America, East in November 2012.

For obvious reasons, this is a big deal for us.  We’ve always believed that writers were a sorely underappreciated part of the Hollywood movie making process and have sought to advocate on their behalf. Initially, it was by celebrating working professionals who had written much loved work, then it was by providing access, guidance, and community for those aspiring to that status via the site and our work with Scott Myers’s Go Into The Story (our official screenwriting blog) and the Black Board (our online screenwriting community run by tireless administrator Shaula Evans. Check out their work on gender and the spec script market for but one example of their extraordinary work).

An official relationship with both East and West is great validation of the work we’ve done thus far and an extraordinary opportunity to engage in ongoing conversation and develop additional programs in support of the writing community in general.

As for the specifics, they’re largely covered in the press release published by the WGAw this morning, but I’ll repeat them here for good measure:

  • The Black List will feature WGAw related resource information in the Education section of our website and a link to the WGAW registry as part of our uploading process (as we already do with the WGAE).
  • WGAw members will receive a 20% discount on all Black List paid services, which currently include script hosting and evaluations from our hired readers. (WGAe members already receive this discount.)
  • For the thirty days immediately following this announcement, all scripts uploaded to our site by WGAw and WGAe members will be hosted for one month free of charge.

The most important component of these relationships, however, is big. Very big.

Beginning today, all Writers Guild members, East or West, will be able to add their script titles, loglines, tags, producer and financier attachment status, and representative information, as well as monitor their work’s ratings and user traffic, and they’ll be able to do all of this entirely FREE OF CHARGE.

WHAT THIS MEANS… FOR REPRESENTED WRITERS

As the Guild has said, “while one of the major challenges facing many screenwriters is ‘getting read’ – by agents, managers, producers, or industry executives – the Black List has emerged as a viable tool for writers, both aspiring and professional, to increase the visibility of their screenplays in the marketplace.”

If you’re a writer with representation, think of us as supplemental; driving incoming calls to your agents and managers’ phone sheets with requests to read the scripts you list on the site.

In addition to that increased visibility, we’re aggregating information about the industry-wide conversations about your script, delivering it to your browser, and giving you – and only you – the choice about whether to share it with the industry.

To paraphrase what we wrote in October, we have an explicit DO NO HARM policy:

The only ratings that might be visible on the site are the individual ratings of our readers and the aggregate distribution of the ratings a script has received, and they are only visible if the writer wishes them to be so. The default setting for all ratings is invisible.

WHAT THIS MEANS… FOR UNREPRESENTED WRITERS

There may be a fear that more scripts in our database – particularly those of high quality by working professional writers – may make it less likely for unrepresented writers to join the dozens of those who have found representation or sales via the site.

In fact, it’s very much the opposite.

The list of top uploaded scripts will continue to be a marquee feature of our member’s home page, and we have added a list of top uploaded scripts by unrepresented writers in a similarly prominent position.

We have further expanded our ability to spotlight top scripts generally with a head to toe site redesign that features top lists (unproduced, uploaded, and unrepresented, separately) on our member home page in all eleven major genres.

We will also continue to include scripts receiving high scores from our hired readers in weekly emails that are targeted based on industry professionals’ specific tastes and preferences in genre, budget, etc.

Most importantly though, a deeper catalog will attract more industry professionals, and more industry professional means more possible eyes on your script, which has always been, and will continue to be, the point of what we do.

WHAT THIS MEANS… FOR INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

In short, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for.

Scripts on the Black List are indexed by attachments, production status, representation status, 11 genres, 65 subgenres, and 770 tag descriptions.  While the number of combinations you can theoretically search isn’t infinite, our best back-of-the-envelope estimate is that the number has at least 1500 digits (25 * 76! * 770!). Quite literally more than you could search in many, many lifetimes.

Looking for an action script with a producer attached set in China with a car chase, a foot chase, and a love triangle? A microbudget romantic comedy set in a New York City high school that passes the Bechdel Test? A WWII thriller with a female protagonist between the ages of 35 and 44, a healthy dose of moral ambiguity, and a budget in the $20-40MM range?

If it exists, you’ll find it here, and you’ll be able to download it on the site or we’ll be able to tell you whom to call in order to get a copy.

As we hope is clear, this is a tide that can raise all boats, especially those carrying writers. It was explicitly designed to be exactly that.  As we’ve said before, quibble with our methodology as much as you like, we welcome the opportunity to explain why we’ve created what we have in the way that we have and to hear the ideas and concerns of those who might be affected by what we’re doing. We will almost certainly incorporate many of these suggestions in order to improve the Black List.

To that end, on July 9, the WGAw will be hosting a members only educational event, where I’ll be demoing the site and answering questions. I have no plans to leave until the last question is answered. Very much looking forward to seeing you there.

Sincerely,

Franklin Leonard