The Black List Part 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold

September 22nd, 2014 | by | filmmaking, screenwriting


Following up on my earlier post about my experience with putting a script up on the Black List website, there have been a couple of things I’ve been asked, things I forgot, numbers that could be filled in, etc.:

Wait, you didn’t say which script was yours. That’s because that wasn’t really the point of my little summary, I guess. My goal wasn’t to promote the script itself. If you’re a Black List member it’s pretty easy to find1, and if you’re not, well, then you’re not able to read it anyway. Again, for what I’ve had to say about the Black List, I don’t think any particular script — or any positive reception or success that particular script meets with — is what it’s all about (plus see my last point in the earlier post about subjectivity). What is hopefully helpful is to see what benefits the Black List offers a script that readers respond to.

Peer views vs. pro views. The script got several hundred peer views and probably around one fifth as many pro views. I think people can probably spend a lot of time checking their Black List stats, and I don’t think that’s the best use of anyone’s time or attention. While one might be tempted to get excited when logging onto the website and seeing “Hey! 10 more people viewed my script!” — unless they’re 10 additional pro views, it ultimately doesn’t mean that much. All a non-pro view means is that other writers were curious enough about your title and/or logline to take a look at the script’s summary page.2 We writers can be neurotic enough without obsessing about view statistics. But…as long as I’m on the topic:

Pro views vs. pro downloads. Here the percentage was actually pretty high. I don’t have anything to compare this to, so I’m not sure what the normal trend might be — in the case of my script more than a couple people mentioned that the high scores were what stood out and grabbed their attention.3 At one point around two thirds of pro views resulted in a download, although that trend fell off a little bit over time. Of course that doesn’t mean they actually read it. But they did download it. Since the majority of pros who viewed the script downloaded it, that raises a couple of further points, one of which is:

Pro downloads vs. pro reads. A more pragmatic-leaning thought I’ve had is that — since it’s clear that at least some agencies, studios, etc. have people keeping an eye on the site — new screenplays4 are downloaded as a matter of course for subsequent triage and cataloguing. So it’s probably not the case that getting a “You’ve got download!” email means that someone has just flopped down on the sofa with their iPad to read your script cover to cover. At least not right away. So you can relax.

What sort of professionals contacted you? Agents, producers, managers, directors, and others.5 Which I take as pretty solid evidence that agents, producers, managers, directors and others (or at least people who work for them) are reading scripts on the Black List website.

Being the featured screenplay. This was nice, and unexpected. It was right after I’d gotten my high evaluation scores and still had only my initials on the script. Once selected, the Black List generously lines you up with an artist to develop a poster concept a month or two ahead of time. Then the screenplay and poster appear at the start of the Top Scripts Page for two weeks. There’s a substantial uptick in views (and a smaller bump in downloads) from being featured. All this is pretty cool, and ego-stroking, and while unfortunately of course not every script can be a featured screenplay, I will tell you this: most of the contact I received via the site came well before being featured. What that suggests to me is that professionals are actively visiting the site and keeping an eye on the new uploads and top lists. So when a script becomes featured, and especially if it was sitting high on one or more top lists, they may well have already seen it. My theory, anyway.

And finally, on the topic of success stories… I had an interesting little conversation with someone about how my original summary of my Black List experience was a bit lacking in…dramatic conclusion. Meaning that “I submitted a script, and it was well-reviewed, and scored highly, and some people got in touch with me about it, and therefore thumbs-up from me for the Black List” wasn’t much of a narrative. And that what people want to hear most from people’s experience with the Black List are success stories. I agree — I’m quite sure that’s what people want to hear. And there is certainly no shortage of success stories with regard to the Black List — just check the end of their Annual Report for signings and sales — but I think there’s (a) more to it than that, and (b) something to be said about what “success” means.

As much as I’d like to be writing this from the gold-plated chair that Warner Bros. sent me, I’m not.6 There’s a tendency to think in terms of “making it”. That there’s something — a signing, a sale, or whatever other single goal one is striving toward — that denotes success. I’m not sure that’s the best conditioning for being a screenwriter (or filmmaker) (or anything). It’s hard. And people want answers and metrics and guarantees. But there aren’t any. That’s just the way it works. That’s the way everything works. That’s the way the world works. Maybe you wrote a great script, and maybe you didn’t. Maybe the right person read it and liked it, and maybe the wrong person read it, and maybe the right person read it but just wasn’t into it that day. Maybe your script is ahead of its time; maybe it’s a little old-fashioned or not what “they” are looking for today. Maybe your script is exactly what someone is looking for and it will become that rare beast — the mythical spec sale — and maybe it’ll get the much more popular “We’re interested in seeing whatever you write next”. Or maybe it’ll be met with puzzlement and dead silence — something even some of the best screenwriters in the business have experienced. Enthusiastic “Everybody here loved it!”s can dissipate in the light of a new day, and eagerly awaited “I’ll call you back tomorrow”s may never come. All of these things and more are possible. And I think it’s important that despite the absence of any guarantees or promises of success, one recognize what opportunities are still worth pursuing. My intention in pointing all this out is not to make anyone panic at how big the ocean is — because it doesn’t matter. Because you can swim. Because it’s what you’re good at. Because it is such a cliché and it is so true: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Because you have your copy of Fade In7 fired up and you’re writing the next thing. And the Black List might just help get it in front of someone to read it.

  1. And if you go in the next couple of days, you can see the cool poster by Erika Deoudes featured on the Top Scripts page.
  2. Which isn’t a bad thing, of course. And the other thing it may be an indication of is that your script is ranking high enough in one or more categories to be visible — although if you’re checking the website, chances are you’re perfectly aware of where your script is showing up or not.
  3. Others mentioned the title and logline, and a couple asked if going by my initials was an intentional choice to be mysterious. I honestly wish I were that clever.
  4. Probably not all, but some, and perhaps even many.
  5. One or more or some combination of each. And I say “others” because while the Black List does vet its professional applicants — I mean, I’ve tried to apply as the producer and director of two independent features but haven’t been approved, and any club that would have me as a member… — not everyone is sitting behind a desk at WME or Paramount or fresh off the set of their latest feature, and in a position to help make something “happen”.
  6. As it turns out, there have been problems getting it through customs.
  7. I mean, come on, right?

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