For those that haven’t heard of it, the Black List is a highly respected list that comes out once a year, cataloging the best unproduced scripts that have been circulating around Hollywood. It’s curated by Franklin Leonard, a very smart guy who I think takes great pride in the Black List’s record of scripts being turned into movies and picking up awards. (I think it’s something like 25 Oscars, which is an impressive stat). It’s an interesting and important project and Franklin has been expanding it in different ways throughout the last year.
The newest aspect of the Black List sees it opening up to aspiring writers, and having their work ranked alongside a database of past and current scripts by professionals. The idea is that the truly great work will rise to the top and a network of professional producers, agents and managers will be able to discover a great story they wouldn’t have found otherwise. It’s a wonderful idea in theory, but is it working as intended?
Let’s take a look at what’s currently working well:
They’re on it – Franklin Leonard has been talking at conferences, answering questions, listening to feedback, and been generally very responsive. They’ve already implemented some suggestions from users since launch. There’s a distinct plan behind the site, and some clever, experienced people involved. If nothing else, that’s reassuring.
The site is good – It’s clean, has some interesting stats and works well. There’s potential there, once they use all that data to do something interesting.
It’s not a con – At least, I don’t think it is. It’s an opportunity, with no strings attached. You can stop membership at any time and you don’t have to pay for reads if you don’t want to. (Although how you are supposed to get a rating without one, I don’t know). You retain all rights to your work and are free to go with anyone that contacts you regarding your script.
Now, some of the not so promising aspects:
It costs a fortune – It really is the most expensive hosting plan in history. You pay $25 a month just for the privilege of being listed and having your script available for download. You can’t be listed without uploading a script, either. On top of that, you need to pay $50 for a reader to give your script a rating. On the site, there is a suggestion that you should get at least three ratings, so at a minimum, you’re looking at $75 for the least costly option (one month listing and one rating) and $450 for a year of hosting and 3 reads. That is extortionate.
You can’t edit your details – This seems like an oversight. You can’t edit anything once you’ve uploaded your script, so you better hope you get it right the first time. I think it’s because they don’t want people changing things randomly, but really, users should have some control over their own work and how it’s presented.
Slow response time – The site is busy right now due to the influx of new scripts, so you must wait up to two and a half weeks for your ranking score to come in. That’s half a month you’re paying for, while your script is parked and practically undiscoverable (unless someone knows the title or author, there’s absolutely no way to find it). Asking for your details to be edited also takes days, which is fairly unacceptable.
Bad value – In strict business terms, you’re paying for nothing, essentially. They promise you no more than a slightly random opportunity, but one that could just as easily be found by sending a query out to an agent and getting lucky. In fact, you’re paying to be listed in a database where no one can find you right now.
Scripts are buried and hard to find – There is really no mechanism to discover new scripts at the moment. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt here, because it’s early days and most scripts don’t have ratings yet. I’m sure there’s going to be some neat stuff in this area in the future. At least I hope. If not, it’s a dealbreaker.
So should you upload your masterpiece to the Black List right away? Honestly, I’d say take the approach of wait and see. There isn’t a really good argument for laying out $75 dollars right now, and definitely not one that improves on the old fashioned and (free) route of querying agents. There is also a weird us-and-them aspect to the site that I don’t feel comfortable with. You are an amateur paying out of your pocket to be listed alongside professionals, who not only have free access to the site and the bulk of ratings being given to them (as it should be, and I get why), but that can also see data and information that you can’t. You don’t know who looked at your script, who downloaded it, who read it, anything. You just have to pay up and wait.
I’m certain the site will evolve into something sleeker, with less clutter as bad scripts drop out, and more data as the good ones get placed into their correct positions. I can definitely see that it could become a rolling competition of monthly winners as really great scripts get attention (assuming the people who matter buy into the idea). Whether it will help them sell faster than they would normally, no one can really say.
I guess it’s great that there’s another avenue for aspiring writers, but I wish it wasn’t so expensive, one that will profit from many and reward few.