Do Blacklist scores matter?

Do Blacklist scores and other screenplay scores matter?

The Short answer: Heck no.

Congratulations. You can stop reading. Or, you can move on to my Medium-Sized answer, and/or even my TLDR Answer below.

Do Blacklist Scores Matter? The Medium-Sized Answer

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a script reader or consultant or company assigning an arbitrary score or rating, using any rubric, to a submitted script. It’s only wrong, in this script reader’s opinion, when that score is aggregated publicly with other scripts and scores on a platform that either promises (or even vaguely alludes to) the furtherance of a writing career via career-making personalities or entities supposedly browsing the platform for new material and talent.

Even worse? When the platform requires payment for the writer to access or host her material and receive a score to begin with.

Do Blacklist Scores Matter? The TLDR Answer

Assigning a “score” to a screenplay has always, always been a part of reading a script and providing script coverage, in at least one small sense: PASS, CONSIDER, and RECOMMEND. Remember those?

That classic rubric, in one form or another, has helped script coverage become more useful and more meaningful for countless screenwriters, producers, and reps for decades. Really, the PASS / RECOMMEND rubric is the de facto coin of the realm when it comes to communicating a script’s commercial value or artistic value or both.

And numerical “scoring” based on categories (plot, character, etc.) has always been commonplace as well, though it must be emphasized that both the PASS and the numerical/categorical scores have almost always been, and largely remain aspects of typically private, in-house systems of scoring spec scripts that each individual studio or producer not only does a little differently, but keeps within the confines of their own company.

In other words, most script coverage throughout Hollywood’s history has been internal. (And it must be said that the only script coverage that really matters still is that internal, studio/producer script coverage. But that’s a story for another day.)

Yet things started to change as the internet blobbed onto the scene. Companies like the Blacklist and Inktip saw financial opportunity in script scoring. But the financial part of the financial opportunity came from two key things they tweaked:

1) They took script scores out of the private, in-house, internal world of the studio and producer and made them publicly accessible, and 2) They aggregated those scripts and their writers, essentially pitting script against script for all the world to see. (To be fair, scripts were previously pitted against each other all the time behind the scenes, so kudos to these companies for bringing some small aspect of the dog-eat-dog screenwriting into the spotlight for all the world to see.)

And so the famous website, and a business model directed squarely at aspiring screenwriters was born.

Writers could now pay to submit their scripts to the Blacklist, for example, and receive an official “Blacklist score,” with the promise of landing a possible read from one of the many top creatives and execs that ostensibly and somewhat improbably trawled the Blacklist for new talent and hot scripts.

The result though? Boom! Thousands of aspiring screenwriters from all of the world threw down their ducats and sent in their scripts. And in the years since its founding, for better or worse, thousands more screenwriters have become convinced that the only way to make it as a paid screenwriter is to land that perfect, or high, Blacklist score.

So now writers keep paying these services to read and score their scripts and drafts and to host their material on for-profit, publicly accessible websites in the hopes that some agent or producer will discover them. Gee whiz!

But what’s so wrong with that? Nothing, if these companies are truly exposing new writers and good material to Hollywood. If that’s the case, then paying a few bucks a month could be a worthwhile investment in one’s screenwriting career, right?

Okay. Sure.

The problem, though, isn’t that companies like the Blacklist and the Red List or Brown List or Mauve List exist. Or that writers flock to them. And the problem isn’t that these companies profit off the quantification—the scoring—the gamification—of creative work.

No, the problem is that in pursuit of that profit, the message at the root of all these companies’ marketing efforts, once you strip away the layers of bullshit, is invariably something like “a good score (may) nab you and your script film industry exposure.”

And in that vein, the companies regale their potential customers with a litany of marketing. That is to say, “success stories” that high-scoring scripts and writers have enjoyed because they bought into the service. (With some even showing faces and names of “top Hollywood execs” who they claim, usually indirectly, are frequent browsers of the scripts on the site.)

And why that’s a problem, again, in my opinion, is because the founders and owners of these companies know very, very well that nearly all the writers working in the film industry got their start via traditional means such as working, interning, and meeting people and making friends in the industry. Not by lucking out on a no-name script contest or by paying $50/month to host their script on a website that gave it an arbitrary score based on the half-baked opinion of a distracted college kid who half read their script.

What’s more, these companies also know very, very, very well that the spec script market continues to tighten up as the studios rely more and more on established intellectual property (Marvel, Star Wars, popular novels and comics, et al) on which to base their content. They know very well that producers and streamers and studios aren’t taking as much risk, and that a new writer with a fresh idea or a fresh script is risk.

In other words, these companies know what they’re selling is hope and bullshit. And, well, they keep doing it. And that. That is the problem.

So are all screenplay scores bad?

Not necessarily. A screenplay’s rating or numerical score in script coverage, such as what Screenplay Readers provides, can genuinely help a writer or producer gauge progress in their developmental process. A numerical score assigned to categories such as plot, character, conflict, and other key criteria of a script can help guide a writer’s next draft, and the next one.

But the important distinction is: the scores in our coverage are kept private. Just like internal studio coverage and scores, any score or rating we provide our writer and producer customers is for their eyes only.

But are screenplay scores always helpful? Even from companies like Screenplay Readers? No. Dare I say, f*ck no?

Some of our clients, for example, will have Reader A give their plot a score of 96, then two weeks later when Reader B reads the new draft, that reader gives their plot a 55. And such disparity can cause heads to spin.

So by any objective measure, even a score from my own company is absolutely not always helpful. That being said, objective measure does not always go hand-in-hand with subjective critique. But we keep providing scores because our clients over the last few decades have kept demanded them. And that’s because they genuinely find them more useful than not.

But we don’t use those scores to pit customers’ scripts against each other, nor do we use those scores, or indeed our PASS / CONSIDER / RECOMMEND to encourage the client to purchase more reads. Blech.

What we do do is go out of our way to encourage our clients to not keep buying one coverage after another in pursuit of a higher score. What’s more, we encourage all variety of free feedback, from writers groups and cohorts, before our customers even purchase from us. Then if they do purchase script coverage, we simply provide honest and constructive feedback on their screenplay. That’s it. No games. No contests. No promises of Hollywood glory.

Screenplay scoring companies are here to stay

The sad truth is that the path to becoming a paid screenwriter is only getting narrower and narrower, and it was narrow even before the rise of these script listing / hope-peddling services. So as long as there are dwindling avenues to success in the film industry, aspiring writers who can afford to take a chance will continue to use these companies.

But alas, don’t listen to just one man’s opinion. Poke around the internet and talk to other writers and ask them what they think of services like Blacklist and others.

Dive in and find out the names of the writers and scripts that have had success there. Do the math. If you figure the odds are decent for the price you’re paying, go for it.

But at the very least, try not to get sucked in by the marketing. Creative executives with the power to greenlight screenplays and careers are not hanging out online browsing the internet for new material and writers. They’re waiting for new material and writers to come to them, through friends and creative partners whose taste they respect and trust. Not through the heckin’ internet. Gosh!

😊 Cheers!

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