The Black List is opening up to the public via a paid service that will allow any screenwriter — amateur or pro — to upload scripts to an online database for $25 per month.
Screenplays will be hosted on The Black List’s website, where aspiring scribes can pay an additional $50 for evaluations by anonymous, professional script readers hired by the service. Not only will every read generated by those evaluations be free of charge, but The Black List will not claim a commission, finder’s fee, or producer credit on business generated by their service.
“Writers retain all rights to sell and produce their work and are free to negotiate the best deal they can get. All we ask is an email letting us know of their success,” said Franklin Leonard, who co-founded the Black List with Dino Sijamic.
More than 1,000 film industry pros are already part of the membership site.
The launch didn’t go off without controversy: A handful of vocal social media users decried the idea of paying $25 a month to have their script sit on a digital shelf, questioning the practice of paying for access to the industry. Leonard was quick to quell those fears, responding directly to criticisms on Twitter.
He explained that the monthly fee will support the site’s infrastructure and staff, making clear that readers are not offering coverage, but merely an evaluation “whose content will catalyze recommendations.” As part of the site’s “do no harm” policy, writers will receive their evaluation first — it will be up to them to decide whether to make it public, after which the site’s unique algorithm will determine to whom it should be recommend.
Leonard recently tapped Sean Owen to serve on The Black List’s advisory board. A former Google employee, Owen is the London-based founder of Myrrix who is considered one of the preeminent thinkers of recommendation engines in the world. The Black List’s proprietary formula is similar to how Netflix and Amazon do their recommendations, predicting how users will rate a script and suggesting material based on ratings from users with similar taste.
Some compared the new Black List site to a screenwriting competition with rolling admission, and while Leonard admitted that the cost is similar, he explained that the process is completely different and that the undertaking is less a business model than a “mission to make Hollywood more efficient.” Leonard pointed out that not only are the site’s users, who are individually approved, the sort who can help get scripts bought and made, but “instead of a check, you may be rewarded with a career as a professional screenwriter.”
Leonard told Variety that “people are rightfully skeptical of the idea of paying for the service. They have the right to ask the question ‘is this good or bad for us?’ I think it has the potential to change forever how screenwriters get discovered and how industry professionals find movies to make.”
The Black List began as a survey of several dozen executives’ favorite unproduced scripts. Over 200 scripts that have appeared on the annual Black List have been produced and released for the domestic market, making over $16 billion in worldwide box office and earning 148 Academy Award-nominations and 25 victories. This includes two of the last four best pictures (“The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) and five of the last 10 screenwriting Oscars, including “Juno,” “The Social Network” and “The Descendants.”
Since today’s launch, The Black List has received over 150 screenplay submissions, and the demand for membership has been more than the site’s administrators can approve.