NOTE: This appeared a few weeks ago on my old blog; reposting for those of you that didn’t see it. Though we’re more than a month on from the site’s launch and we’re still learning a lot, all the things I wrote stand.
Here you go:
QUICK UPDATE: Have been informed by Franklin that, while he worked with Overbrook through the development of this project, he left his post about a week ago. So please take that into consideration when you get to that point of the piece. Does not change my opinions on the matter. Thanks.
First of all, before you attempt to dive into this wordy diatribe, go to the following manifesto by Franklin Leonard (@franklinleonard), founder of The Black List and http://blcklst.com/:
THE HOW, WHAT AND WHY OF THE BLACKLIST
As many of you know, I have been steadfastly against for-profit script-reading services in the past. I continue to be in the present and almost certainly will continue to be in the future. So when a new one pops up, my default position is to be suspicious and dismissive – generally, these services exist for one reason and one reason only: to separate naive and/or desperate aspiring writers from the money in their wallets. Period. I advise aspiring writers to stay away from them at all costs.
So the Blacklist should be no different, correct? Well…not so fast.
I think Mr. Leonard’s service has the chance to be significantly different, and I’m cautiously optimistic about their prospects.
Allow me to explain.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT NOW, NOR HAVE I EVER BEEN, AFFILIATED WITH MR. FRANKLIN OR THIS BLACKLIST PROJECT IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, PROFESSIONALLY OR OTHERWISE. However, my script for GOING THE DISTANCE did appear on the 2008 Black List.
First, let me recap why most script coverage services are a scam (I say “most” only because there may be a legitimate service out there I don’t know about; however, that’s highly unlikely, and all the ones I AM aware of are not worth it). To do this, let’s start by looking at what a reader does. I have the unique ability to speak on this having been in the industry for 8+ years and a studio reader for 4.5 of those.
A Reader is a gatekeeper for a studio, production company, management company or agency (and sometimes working for several at the same time). Execs, Producers and Agents are getting material submitted to them CONSTANTLY, and most of it is absolute shit. If they just read everything they were sent, they’d never get anything else done. Thus, the company they work for employs a force of Readers to filter out the good scripts from the bad.
A typical reader will get anywhere from 3-10 scripts per week depending on their workload. Readers consist of aspiring writers, producers, directors, etc – people active on the creative spectrum. They have a working knowledge of the art of screenwriting and what separates a good script from a bad script and, more importantly, a good script from a GREAT script. They know what their employers are buying, what their interests are, what works for them and what doesn’t. Many of them have read THOUSANDS of scripts in their career. They are, in every sense of the word, professionals.
When they pick up a script, they read it from cover to cover, something that takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the speed at which one can read. They then prepare coverage on the script, which consists of the following:
1) A cover page listing the details of the script and what their overall reaction is (Pass/Reluctant Pass/Mild Consider/Consider/Recommend) to both the script and the writer.
2) Two to three pages of plot summary; this gives the Exec/Producer/Agent a chance to decide, past the flash recommendation, whether or not they want to read the whole script. Obviously, the better the recommendation, them more likely he/she is to read.
3) One to three pages of notes – a detailed reaction to the script and its elements, an explanation of its strengths and weaknesses.
This process takes the Reader, each time, a couple of hours per script. In other words: it’s real work. And it’s time consuming. And you have to be VERY good at it for an industry company to continue to pay you to do it for them. The lines of people waiting for these jobs, as you might imagine, are long.
When I was working as a reader, you could make decent money at the studio level if you worked a lot. At my top rates, I got $65 for two-day coverage, $75 for overnight coverage, and 50 cents per page to read a book. However, I’ve asked around, and recently those rates have decreased. A quick poll I did shows readers make between $40-60 per script on average.
It’s important that you understand all of that so that I can explain why script coverage services are such scams.
Almost across the board, online script coverage services are started and run by FORMER Readers and/or industry professionals. I stress the word “former” because…well, it needs emphasis. Again, almost across the board, Readers become Readers because they want to advance in the industry. If they’re good at what they do AND they have talent AND they network, they do. If they don’t, they either read for the entirety of their time in the industry or they leave.
Many who leave start script coverage services. So that’s your first red flag – why would you want to pay someone who never advanced in Hollywood to read your script and give you notes? What could those notes be worth? How could they help you get your script sold?
The answers: not much and they can’t. Bottom line: if these people were good at what they did, they’d still be working in the industry.
And then there is the cost to you, the writer, which is EXORBITANT universally. I won’t link to any of the major sites, but you know what they are. Check out their rates. In every case, they charge HUNDREDS of dollars to perform the same tasks as a professional Reader…and sometimes OVER A THOUSAND. It’s unconscionable to see that kind of practice, especially when their service has no inherent value.
Again…if these Faux Readers had any kind of legitimacy, they’d be writers and producers and directors and executives. But they don’t, and they’re not. Don’t be fooled by the occasional testimonial – these people have no standing and no impact in Hollywood. They’re people who have lost their industry credibility, and now they want to charge you potentially thousands of dollars for something that the people who used to employ them don’t even want to pay them less than a hundred dollars for anymore. Just let that sink in for a second.
Still with me? Good. Let me explain why I think the Blacklist COULD be different.
First of all, it’s not a script coverage site. That’s not what they’re offering. For $25 a month, you can host your script on the site; that gives agents, managers, producers and execs access to the core details of your script (title, logline, genre, etc) and the ability to download and read it if they like. They then have the opportunity to rate it and contact you if they wish. Your script then builds a rating, which is only visible to industry professionals if you CHOOSE to make it available. There is no contract with the site – you can pull it off anytime you like and no longer pay the $25 monthly fee. Pretty simple.
You can also pay $50 for a one-time read by a CURRENT PROFESSIONAL READER. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the Blacklist and other sites – the Blacklist is employing people who are CURRENT gatekeepers. These are the same people whose advice current industry pros are trusting. For the $50, you get a quick reaction and some details on the Reader’s opinion of the scripts strengths and weaknesses. They will also rate the script. Again, you can choose to keep the results of this reaction private or make it public for the industry professionals who are part of the site. If you don’t want this service, you never have to pay the $50.
Mr. Leonard has been very adamant, both in our communications personally and those with the public, that this isn’t a site for coverage and notes, for continued work and feedback – it’s essentially a database that cuts out the middleman. You upload your script and, if it’s chosen based on the information YOU provide, it goes DIRECTLY to a person who gets movies made for a living. What happens after they receive it is exactly what happens to professional screenwriters: the future of your script comes down to talent and taste. Plain and simple. Mr. Leonard has also been expressly adamant that the Blacklist will take no ownership of your material and will not attempt to “attach” themselves to it in any way. At the end of the day, you owe them the cost of hosting the script on the site and nothing more, a key difference between what many script coverage sites bind you to, including Amazon.
These facts leave me excited about the possibility for The Blacklist. Mr. Leonard and I discussed the fact that we always wish we had better advice or prospects for an aspiring writer who asks, “How to I break into the system?” For the most part, the example is simple but discouraging: Move to Los Angeles, get an entry-level job in the industry, work your ass off, network like a crazy person, and hope that you have enough talent to make a difference. People do break in through other means, but again, they are extremely rare examples.
Thus, it appears this service MIGHT give you a better chance of breaking in if you are currently 100% unable to move to Los Angeles. If you are able or already live here, it might provide a faster track to compliment your networking – as Mr. Leonard referred to it in his piece, “running shoes”.
Now, are there some concerns? Of course.
First and foremost, there is a sobering reality: 99.9999% of people who write a script will never become professional screenwriters. They just aren’t talented enough; even those who ARE often struggle to break in for various reasons. I get a lot of negativity for being blunt about that, but it’s not a personal vendetta against aspiring writers – it’s math. Brutal, simple, understandable math.
Therein, the Blacklist is going to cater to, far more often than not, writers who have no chance of ever selling a script. Unfortunately, this is the nature of the beast. There’s no way to avoid it on any level. Worse, the Catch-22 of writing applies here – the average writer will never sell a script, but they have no idea if they have what it takes until they put their work out there. But how can you put your work out there if you have no contacts? It’s a balance you accept when you get into any kind of art. Additionally, there ARE great, undiscovered writers out there. That’s ALSO math. And if the Blacklist works, it will provide them with a direct path to the industry that they might not otherwise have.
In this case, one has to believe that the greater good of connecting talented writers with industry pros outweighs the fact that most participants will not succeed. Remember, the Blacklist is not roping writers into a contract of excessively costly coverage that will get them nowhere. If writers find that their script is getting negative ratings and the notes are not positive, they can redact their script and negate their fees. Writers have the CHOICE to participate and to cut their losses early, save their money, and try again later if it doesn’t work out.
Also, there is the question of profit. As I’ve said, I’ve spent some time talking with Mr. Leonard about his project, and in my opinion, he is very sincere about this being a “mission over money” venture. However, yes, he will profit off the site. Along with his take, profits will go towards site maintenance, staff salary, and reader compensation.
I understand those that cling to the maxim of “Real Professionals Don’t Pay For Reads”. It’s a maxim that I ALSO cling to and I agree with – if you’re paying someone to read your script, they’re probably not worth your time. However, what you have to realize here is that you are paying for a SERVICE, not a read. The $25 goes to keeping your script on the site. You do not pay whoever chooses to read it – you pay for the connection to them, the interface. Is that splitting hairs? Possibly, and I can understand why some rankle at the notion. However, this is an enterprise that IS going to take a considerable amount of effort and work for all involved OUTSIDE of their professional positions; for instance, Mr. Leonard is going to be keeping his “day job” as a producer. When it comes down to it, Mr. Leonard’s position is that, though this project is a personal passion for him, he’s also putting a lot of time and effort into it, and he deserves to be compensated (as well as his staff). It’s equally hard to argue that.
Perhaps the most important question is this: who are the professionals who have signed up and will be reading your scripts? To this end, I have no answers, and this is the ultimate measure of how well the site will work. Mr. Leonard has as many contacts in the industry as anyone, and he says they are vetting who they let through the doors on the industry professional side. I have no doubt this is the case. But will those approved be active? Will the site ultimately result in sales? This is something only time will tell, and this is where you should invest the bulk of your caution if you’re thinking about signing up.
So, bottom line: what should you do? I am going to stop short of recommending the site to you, but that’s not because I’m worried it’s a scam; in fact, I’m rather positive it’s not. Rather, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach myself. Having been an aspiring, dirt-poor writer myself for many years, I’m painfully aware of how much $25 a month can hurt, and even more so of another $50 added to that at resulting intervals. It’s no small matter.
That’s why I suggest a cautious optimism with this project. You need to understand how this is different from the various scams out there first and foremost, and I hope I’ve helped in that regard. But past that you need to make the decision for yourself: if you’re going to get in on the ground floor and this DOESN’T work, are you going to be OK losing money finding out? Is the initial risk worth it? Do you dive in head-first or wait to see how it works out for others?
I can tell you that this is legitimately unlike anything I’ve seen attempted before, and that’s a good thing. I can tell you that I’m impressed with Mr. Leonard’s push for transparency and willingness to answer any and all questions about what he’s attempting. I can tell you that he has a very good standing in the industry and is well-respected.
What I cannot tell you is whether or not this will work. I sincerely hope it does, however. Again, I’m taking the stance of cautious optimism. Whatever you decide as a writer, I wish you good luck and good fortune. And I hope you don’t get the jobs I want 🙂
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me, please do so at @DrGMLaTulippe.