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Old 04-07-2016, 02:47 PM   #1
UpandComing
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Default An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

Hi Franklin; hope all is well. We were chatting over on another thread (one you previously made some comments in) about the merits of the BL. During our conversation a number of questions came up regarding the amount of information it makes available to its users. Permeating this discussion was a sense of concern that the BL is not as transparent as it could be. The ďAbout the BlacklistĒ section of your site says: ďTo us, the most important thing is that we give writers the information necessary to assess how their course of action is affecting interest in and response to their script.Ē Writers do get information about their individual scripts -- however, since its inception, there has been very limited information provided about how the site is performing as a whole. This is a concern because, knowledge of the siteís performance is the best barometer of its overall value proposition. And a clear value proposition is important to any customers who are paying for a service.

These are the current benefits of the BL:

-For a $50 flat fee:

A reading of oneís script, scores on various categories and an overall score (both indicating ďwillingness to pass the script to a higher-upĒ), and an evaluation consisting of three brief paragraphs that are not linked to those scores.

The possibility that the script will get listed in the weekly e-mail if the score is an 8 or above.

The possibility that the script will get selected for a Live or Table Read if the score is high enough.

The possibility that the script will get selected for a fellowship if the score is high enough, among other criteria.

The possibility that the writer will get selected for a Lab if his/her performance on the site is strong enough

-For a $25 monthly hosting fee:

The possibility that the script will get downloaded by a Pro member

The thing about these benefits is -- most of them are just possibilities. And with most of these possibilities, chances are very slim. We know that only a small percentage of scripts on the site get an 8. We know that only a fraction of uploaded scripts translate to Live Reads and Table Reads each year. We know that that only a fraction of writers who upload scripts will get selected for fellowships each year.

Knowing that most of the possible benefits are very unlikely increases the importance of knowing the likelihood of the most realistic benefit Ė having the script downloaded by a Pro member. We pay $25 a month for this possibility -- yet we have no idea how often it actually occurs. We donít even have an idea of how often actual searches for scripts occur (for all we know, it could be five in a given week). This contributes to a strong feeling of a lack of transparency on the part of the site. It also contributes to a feeling that it only truly benefits a fraction of its customers.

Therefore, Iíd like to propose something Ė a report distributed to customers on a quarterly basis giving information on the siteís performance in that past quarter. It would provide the following highly useful information:

--Total number of uploaded scripts for the quarter
--Percentage of Pro members that conduct actual searches for script in the database on a weekly basis
--Total number of Pro downloads for the quarter
--Percentage of Pro members that downloaded scripts in the quarter
--Percentage of hosted scripts that have gotten one or more downloads without an evaluation
--Percentage of hosted scripts that have gotten one or more downloads with an evaluation score of 7 or below
--Percentage of Pro members that download a script listed in the weekly e-mails
--Number of script downloads by genre for the quarter
--Number of writers known to have gotten repped/received options through the site (and their specific identities if it has been published or if they are comfortable revealing this information)

This information would give users of the site a greater sense of what they are getting out of the $25 per month they spend on the site Ė and thus, why exactly it is justified. Especially since for those who pay for evaluations, much of the hosting month goes by before they actually get them back. Right now, you have the means to collect a lot of data on your site, but for its members -- it largely just disappears into a vacuum.

I do not think that this is an outrageous proposition. Nicholl, a screenwriting program which you often like to compare with the Black List, publishes data on its number of entrants and provides a breakdown by genre. Since the BL is essentially a year-round contest Ė one that charges a monthly fee -- why canít it do something similar? It has published 2 or 3 such reports in the past (with a handful of the data points I suggested), but the last one was over a year ago.

I doubt that this data cannot be collected. Or that it would take a lot of time to do it. I see that Terry publishes data summaries on the Black List blog on a regular (it appears monthly) basis; a quarterly data dump would not be a big deal. Is there any reason you could not publish this information?

Thereís another thing Iíd like to touch on. A topic that came up in the other thread was the ďlottery mentalityĒ that the BL encourages among its customers. I know that you have the disclaimer that if you get consistently low scores you should probably "remove your script from our site". But this frankly does little to discourage many writers with a dream from buying as many evals as possible with a hope that this time will finally be the one. Itís true that you are under no obligation to do more to help discourage the purchase of numerous reads for a hopeless script. But, on the other hand -- the BL positions itself strongly as having a "do no harm" stance with regard to writers. So honestly -- I find not doing anything to address the irresponsible personal spending issue to be pretty heavily at odds with that stance.
As of right now, the $50 per evaluation fee, combined with the potential for unlimited evaluation purchases, combined with the low percentage of people who get multiple downloads on the site, make it all too easy for detractors to level charges of exploitation against the service. And that's not a good look for a service that claims to be a writers' advocate.

Therefore, Iíd like to propose introducing a volume discount for evals, so that people purchasing multiple reads can save just a little bit of money. So for example, $135 for three reads, $225 for five reads, etc. If you cannot stop writers from spending frivolously, at least you can help them lose less of their earnings along the way. I first brought up this suggestion all the way back in 2013. At the time you responded as follows:

"As for the discount for multiple purchases, it's something we've considered, along with a higher price point for an expedited read (probably $100 for 72 hour guaranteed turnaround.) The main reason we haven't is because we don't to be perceived as trying to manipulate people into behavior against their own interest. You'd be amazed at the emails we've received accusing us of being desperate for money when we send an email announcing an improvement to the site that doesn't encourage people to spend more money. It's noted and under serious (near constant at this point) consideration."

http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...=73634&page=13

I haven't heard any mention of this possibility since. I honestly do not find the argument against the bulk discount idea to be very strong, as many other services that provide writers access to Pros do it Ė for example, see pricing by Virtual PitchFest. I also find it hard to believe that many people would complain about the opportunity to save money. I think that as successful a money-making operation as the Black List has been, it would be a great thing for you to institute that would clearly be reflective of your organization's stated mission.

I donít want this post to come off as angry or accusatory. I also recognize that the BL is just one of many tools that we as writers can use to gain access, and we should never place too much stock in one pathway. I just think that there are some valid questions about the service that are not being addressed. Would be happy if you could take some time to do so.
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Old 04-07-2016, 08:11 PM   #2
FranklinLeonard
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

Thank you for creating a summary of the issues raised in the other thread. Iíve been dealing with doctorís appointments for the last 48 hours (nothing serious, just a probable torn shoulder labrum) and havenít been able to take the time to respond with the due consideration that a lot of these questions require.

Let me start by saying that I disagree with some of your foundational assumptions: Not only do writers get information about their individual scripts, they also get active, real time information about the scripts hosted on the site, in the form of both the information readily available via search and the top lists and via their own distribution graphs which show their scores relative to hosted scripts on the site and those that are simply listed.

As for your assessment of the current benefits of the site. Here's my assessment:

For a $50 flat fee:

* A reading of oneís script by a vetted reader who has worked in a paid capacity for at least a year in the industry wherein reading scripts (either features or pilots depending on what theyíre reading) is a significant part of their job. They are further vetted based on their ability to provide high quality evaluations. Fewer than 15% of those who apply with the required experience are invited to read for us. They receive scores on various categories and an overall score (both indicating their likelihood to recommend the script to a peer or superior in the industry) and qualitative feedback consisting of three paragraphs on the scripts greatest scripts and its weaknesses. The qualitative feedback is certainly linked to the quantitative scores as it further articulates the readerís feelings on the script.

* Inclusion in a weekly email to our over 3500 industry professional members if the score overall is 8 or above.

* The possibility that the script will get selected for a table read as part of the Black List podcast if the scores are high enough (our Live Read scripts have historically been selected exclusively from the annual list.)

* The possibility that the script will get selected to be a finalist for a fellowship if the scores are high enough (our fellowship partners make the final determination re: the receipt of the opportunities created by our partners.) Our partners in this realm include, among others, Warner Brothers, Disney, Sundance, Cassian Elwes, Martin Katz, Bad Robot, Carlton Cuse Productions, FX, Sony, and USA Network.

* The possibility that the writer will be selected for a Lab if his/her performance on the site is strong enough. In 2015, we ran five separate screenwriters minilabs with four participants. In 2016, we expect to run three (a female screenwriters lab in January, a female television writers lab in July and August, and a screenwriters lab in October that will be a weeklong all expenses paid lab in Los Angeles for 6-8 writers.)

For a $25 monthly hosting fee:

* The possibility that the script will get downloaded by a Pro member.

* Access to the rest of the site. The ability to download other writers scripts, with permission from the writer.

For free:

* The Black List blog

* Go Into the Story

* The Black List Table Reads podcast

* The Black List monthly happy hours, now in 11 cities in the United States and Toronto and London

* And if youíre a WGA member, you can list your scripts in our database totally free of charge AND create a profile page that allows you to control your self-presentation of your work to the world via a link e.g. http://www.blcklst.com/upandcoming (or however you want to name it), all making your information and your scripts' information available to the industry professionals who are using the site to find both scripts and writers.

-------

Look, itís undeniably true that the chances of the most rewarding opportunities on the site are very slim, as they should be. Itís unlikely that someone would make the critique of the Nicholl that only a few people win.

Personally, I think youíre overlooking the most realistic benefit that the website provides, one that everyone who hosts a script and purchases an evaluation receives: high quality feedback on their script from a reputable source on a relatively quick turnaround.

The innovation of the Black List website beyond that, I think, is that it provides that feedback in an ecosystem that also enables writers whose scripts are strong to be discovered by working professional members of the industry who may be able to advance the projects in question or the careers of the writers who write them. Weíve taken that notion even further by creating myriad opportunities ranging from blind script deals at major studios and fellowships with producers that include travel to major film festivals as the producerís mentee to screenwriters labs and a podcast that allows a table read of a writerís script to be broadcast to more than 25K listeners worldwide (and that pays each writer 50% of any ad revenue that we receive from doing it.)

As for data, weíve been providing a great deal of what youíve asked for on the Black List blog (http://blog.blcklst.com) and we will continue to do so. Look no further than the Data section.

In the meantime, let me try to answer some of your questions in the best way I can given our current data collection infrastructure:

* Total number of uploaded scripts over the life of the site (I donít have figures for the most recent quarter): 32K

* Percentage of pro members that conduct actual searches: We actually havenít collected data on searches.

* Total pro downloads over the life of the site: 45K unique pro downloads

* Percentage of hosted scripts that have gotten one or more downloads without an evaluation: As of June 2015 (the last time I checked), 24.8%

* Percentage of hosted scripts that have gotten one or more downloads with an evaluation score of 7 or below: Far more robust information about this question can be found here: https://blog.blcklst.com/ratings-v-d...b5b#.sov7ph2nm, published on February 1

* Percentage of Pro members that download a script list in the weekly emails: We donít have a number on this because itís impossible to determine which downloads of those scripts come directly via the emails and which come via downloading a script seen in the weekly emails when a member logs on at some point in the future after receiving it.

* Percentage of Pro members that have downloaded a script in the last quarter: Not a number I have handy. There are, on average, roughly 1000 unique industry pro downloads in a given month though, which should give you an order of magnitude on the activity there.

* Number of script downloads by genre for the quarter: This (https://blog.blcklst.com/ratings-and...130#.dhpyxsk9h) focuses on ratings and genre, but the question re: downloads is an interesting one that Iíll direct Terry to look at it in future post on the blog. (Note: The post on ratings vs. downloads listed above gets into a brief look at downloads by genre for scripts that get at least an 8 overall.)

* Number of writers known to have gotten repped/received options through the site: Again, we donít have precise numbers on this, principally because it happens often enough that people no longer bother to tell us when it happens.

As but one example, Isaac Adamson, screenwriter of the #1 script on the 2015 annual Black List BUBBLES, was discovered on the site by his manager Lee Stobby based on a previous script that he submitted to the site. I only discovered that that this happened a week after the 2015 annual list came out even though he signed more than 18 months prior. Feel free to tweet at Lee to verify my story if you donít believe me.

* I do recall one other issue being raised in the thread that Iíd like to addressÖ.who are our industry professionals? What companies do they come from? At present, we have more than 3500 industry professionals that range from agency assistants all the way to studio presidents and working actors and directors. I can say confidently that there are many agents at every major and mid-major agency and management company that use the site. Ditto every major studio and at least 50% of the production companies who have deals therewith (if not more.) You can also reasonably assume that every one of our corporate partners is using the site actively (to be a bit more specific, hereís a partial list: arner Brothers, Disney, Sundance, Cassian Elwes, Martin Katz, Bad Robot, Carlton Cuse Productions, FX, Sony, and USA Network.) And because he recently gave me permission to use his name explicitly: JJ Abrams.

I think that covers it.

As for the comparison to the Nicholl, yes, they publish some data after the fact and a breakdown by genre.
* Do they publish aggregate scores by genre? https://blog.blcklst.com/ratings-and...130#.dhpyxsk9h
* Do they publish aggregate score by demographics? https://blog.blcklst.com/ratings-by-...c-ba27ec9ea89e
* Do they publish data about the scripts theyíve celebrated on other platforms? https://blog.blcklst.com/nicholl-scr...242#.po3sj631l

Iíll happily put the data transparency available on the Black List against theirs any day of the week, and suffice it to say weíll be doing more. Just keep an eye on the blog.

As for the lottery mentality, let me ask for your help on this: genuinely, Iím not sure what is expected re: preventing this beyond making it very clear to people that thereís absolutely no traffic coming to their script (in the form of either views or downloads) via our script page transparency and me saying explicitly, and repeatedly, if weíre not helping your script move forward, stop giving us your money.

Are you asking that we actively disallow certain people from hosting their scripts or purchasing evaluations based on their previous performance? Should we issue warnings to people after a certain number of evaluation purchases asking ďare you sure you want to buy another evaluation of your script because previous evaluations of it indicate that itís garbage?Ē That may sound like jest, but I ask these questions sincerely.

Even if a person chose to purchase 10 evaluations for a relatively poor script, I would argue that itís far from exploitation. For each purchased evaluation, the writer is receiving feedback on their script which should allow them to improve it. Itís the writerís call as to how much feedback they want and how they want to use it.

Youíll have to forgive me for being a bit amused that you follow this line of thinking with the suggestion that we offer discounts for multiple reads. Would a bulk discount not encourage people who shouldnít be buying large numbers of script evaluation from doing just that? As for other services providing it, thatís their prerogative. If you prefer to use Virtual Pitchfest as a consequence, I encourage you and others to do so.

The reality at present is that we have much more demand for evaluations that we can possibly provide with a three week turnaround which is why youíve seen so many recent complaints that evaluations are taking longer than that (though our promise of a free month of hosting if it extends beyond that still holds). If anything, itís likely that weíll need to raise prices in the immediate future so that we can pay our readers more (and a higher percentage of the evaluation cost), thereby attracting more of them (and frankly, reducing demand to something a bit more manageable).

To be clear, I donít consider your post angry or accusatory. Iíd be asking the same questions if I werenít the founder of this company, and rest assured that I ask them daily because I am. I think weíve done a very good job in providing transparency around what we do and how we do it and delivering exactly the service that we promise to provide.

I hope this is helpful. If itís not clear, Iím happy to address future questions. By all means, fire away.
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Old 04-07-2016, 08:41 PM   #3
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

Thanks for the information Franklin - very helpful. Here are some things you might think about providing:

Overall demographic stats on reviewers - we get a a lot of demographics on submitters in BL reports, it seems fair to know the same on reviewers - the ones with the power - Average age and age range, maybe how many scripts they've ever written, ever reviewed on BL, how many per week, whatever other stats people might like to see.

Specific stats on reviewers - I mean, these folks (to a degree) hold our fate in their hands and it's their labor that's being charged (largely). We give evaluation scores for reviewers - it might be helpful to know my reviewer's a) average script score, and b) average rating by submitters.

Of course, it's your business and you don't owe anyone these - but as a customer I would be interested in seeing them - I can't speak for others.
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Old 04-07-2016, 10:32 PM   #4
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

Quote:
Originally Posted by FranklinLeonard View Post
I hope this is helpful. If itís not clear, Iím happy to address future questions. By all means, fire away.
Hi Franklin,

First of all, my sympathies for your injury. Can't be fun to deal with, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my post (in detail) despite it.

Here's a summary of my thoughts:

1) Benefits to Writers - I understand that you view all of the site possibilities I listed as significant, but as I said (and as you acknowledged), the majority of them only benefit a fraction of your customers. While this is a reflection of the fact that most people don't get high enough scores, I feel that more can be done to increase visibility for the many writers who just miss the 8 threshold. For example, many people in this forum have said that they made the Top Lists, only to receive no downloads or even views. Is there anything being done to draw active attention to the Top Lists from Pros? Encouraging them to check it? If there is no promotion it might as well be just another page on the site.

It's not just that -- to get on the Top List you have to have two eval scores within the same month. However, many people buy one eval initially to get a sense of their script strength, and then buy another if they get a decent score. Because their scores won't be within the same month (especially with the delays taking place for reads), that rules out their chance of getting on the Top List, essentially decreasing visibility for a script that might generate strong interest among Pros. Some people don't even limit their first purchase to one eval for the reason I mentioned above -- some do it because they can only afford to buy one at a time. Should they be punished for that?

2) Feedback Quality -- You say that the most realistic benefit of the site is high quality feedback. However, I think it is arguable just how high that quality is for the price being paid. Let's do a comparison using the two most respected script consultants on DDP.

Screenplay Mechanic charges $150 for 3 pages of feedback (so about $50 per page). ScriptGal charges $125 for 3 pages (so about $42 per page). With both services, the turnaround is rarely more than 3 weeks.

I estimate the typical length of a BL evaluation to be half a page, 3/4 of a page at most (excluding the Era/Locations/Budgets/Genre/Logline/Pages lines). So for starters, that's $50 for less than a page of notes, less than that of the analysts'. Now, one-third of the evals goes to describing Strengths. However, feedback is most useful to the extent that it goes into detail about what is wrong about a script. This is why within the reports of the analysts I mention above, you'll never see a full page devoted to listing strengths (representing one-third of the report).

Next, one-third of the evals goes to describing Development Prospects. While it is a cute idea, I've found time and time again this section provides limited value. More often than not it spits out something obvious -- like, for example, that a script deemed low budget and low concept and in a certain type of genre (e.g., dark comedy) will do best in the indie world or on the film festival circuit. In fact, I've seen some variation of that same statement in the D.P. section of multiple scripts I've viewed on the site.

Taking all of this into account, we get the most value in our $50 payment from the read and a paragraph describing weaknesses. But because there is only one paragraph on weaknesses, that undercuts its value. It means the reader spends a sentence or two at most on each weakness. And because of that, it often feels like little thought was put into these -- that the reader just grabbed for the low-hanging fruit. Or that they don't fully justify why they viewed it as a weakness. The evals would be much stronger if readers were allowed to go more in-depth on this section and justify their views of flaws. And it would justify the $50 more. I don't know how much of the decision to make strengths account for one-third was a marketing one (to protect the feelings of volatile customers), but I frankly think it makes the overall quality of the evals considerably lower.

3) Data Frequency - You provided a number of data points regarding the site's performance since its inception (the life of the site). This information is useful, and I appreciate it. However, it does not give a useful snapshot of how the site is performing in the past quarter, or even in the past year. I think it's highly likely that utilization and downloading by Pros was highest in the first year or two of the site. It would be much more valuable for our hosting dollars to get a sense of how much activity is going on now (overall, not just with Top Listed scripts).

This is why I think a quarterly report would be a good idea. It would provide regular, recent data on site performance. This could give useful insight such as the times of year when Pros download the most, and what genres they were most interested in in the previous quarter. Terry does produce data blog posts, but they cover one topic at one time. And your site runs year-round, with results not published just once like a contest. So I think more regular reporting would be valuable (and again, would do more to justify a monthly hosting fee). I understand there may be some concern about a dip in downloads one quarter making the site look bad -- but I don't think that most people would view it that way. They would just view it as a valuable snapshot of a dynamic ecosystem that you've created. Right now people only get value out of your data if they happen to read one of your posts on DDP (such as the info you just provided) or if they happen to stop by the Black List blog. I feel you could do a lot more with it in a way that would benefit the customer base and make them feel less skeptical about the fee.

Sorry about the length of my reply; I tend to be thorough in my analyses. Would love to hear your response when you have the time.
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Old 04-08-2016, 01:25 AM   #5
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

As for the injury, it is what it is. Iíll be fine.

Let me try to address each of your thoughts directly:

Benefits to Writers - I still think youíre overlooking the primary value the site serves for all of its customers: the script evaluations, but you address this in another section so Iíll get to that in a second.

On the question of visibility for writers who ďjust miss the 8 threshold,Ē I think itís worth noting that we changed the default top list to quarterly a while ago and reduced the threshold to be included on it to address exactly this issue. It's not a question of directing industry pros to that portion of the site. That IS the site. It's the first thing you see when you log in.

As for scripts that make the top lists and donít get downloads, I think it must be considered that the loglines didnít inspire interest or that the scripts were low enough down the top lists that industry professionals chose to read scripts that were higher. As the blog post shows, scripts that receive scores consistent with the top lists typically do get downloads.

More broadly, I think I might need to recommunicate the siteís organization vis-a-vis visibility. One of our goals is to give the brightest spotlight to those scripts that have the highest likelihood of an industry professional saying ďnow this is something I have to do something with!Ē And we do that by having our readers evaluate them on their likelihood of saying the same thing themselves. 8 evaluations are rare - less than 3.5% of evaluations - and 9 evaluations are even more rare - less than 0.5% of evaluations. This is as it should be. (Suffice it to say that 10s are even more infrequent.

A script that consistently get 8s and 9s is something we want more people to see. Thatís why we offer free evaluations to scripts that get those scores overall (which I hope, to some extent, addresses your concern about folks who have a strong script but canít afford additional evaluations to be included in the top lists.) The less frequently a script gets those scores, the less likely we are to want to spotlight it. A script that consistently receives 6s and 7s may elicit a strong positive response from someone, but itís less likely to than a script that has already elicited a few strong positive responses, even one that is highly polarizing with a bunch of high scores and a bunch of low scores.

Feedback quality - If people want to pay for Screenplay Mechanic and ScriptGalís coverage, I strongly encourage them to do so. I donít know them personally and I havenít used their services personally, but when I see their names mentioned, itís always with praise.

I simply disagree with your deconstruction of our evaluations. I think itís important for a writer to know what in their script - in the opinion of one reader - works, and I think itís important for a writer to know what in their script - in the opinion of one reader - doesnít work. And the development prospects serves a dual purpose, both for the writer to gain a better understanding of where their script likely lives in the marketplace (youíd be surprised how few writers have a firm grasp of this) and for an industry professional to get a quick sense of whether itís something theyíre looking for.

If anything, supply and demand would suggest that our evaluations are currently undervalued. As I mentioned previously, we have much more demand for evaluations that we can possibly provide with a three week turnaround.

Data Frequency - Youíre actually wrong about utilization and downloading by Pros. Suffice it to say that the success stories weíve seen have lead to pretty steady downloads throughout the siteís life, peaking in weeks when we spotlight a large number of scripts (Nicholl quarterfinalists and semifinalists, scripts in our TV staffing book, scripts that received 8s or better overall during the holidays, etc.) and dipping when a large percentage of Hollywood isnít at their desks, especially the holiday season (which is why we do a big push for those evaluated well over the holidays once everyone returns in the new year.)

Youíve raised an interesting idea re: a quarterly report. Itís not something Iím willing to commit to quite yet, but if nothing else, I can definitely say that youíve successfully raised the issue of our publishing more data with greater frequency.

Itís something you should look for at the Black List blog, which I encourage people to enjoy regularly anyway. Weíve just moved over to Medium, so youíll be able to easily subscribe and get alerts when we publish new posts. The commenting system is far more robust than what we were using at WordPress, and Kate has done some excellent series thereon, including interviews with various Black List success stories and our Essential Film Series, which is currently in its third month.
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Old 04-08-2016, 01:30 AM   #6
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

I actually don't have hard numbers on the readers, but here's what I can say:

Most of our readers are in their late 20s or early 30s, roughly balanced by gender. Less diverse racially than America as a whole, but more diverse than Hollywood in my experience. The average ratings are bunched quite close to the mean for the site as a whole (it's something we monitor closely, for hopefully obvious reasons).

Generally speaking, writers' scores of their readers are positively correlated with the scores they receive (if you get a low score, you're more likely to rate your reader poorly; if you get a high score, you're more likely to rate them highly), so I'm less concerned with their average rating by submitters than I am with the relationship between the scores they give and the ratings they receive.
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Old 04-08-2016, 02:44 AM   #7
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

I'd love to know how many times my logline has been seen. Sort of like impressions on twitter. I can see how many people actually saw my tweet. It would be nice if whenever my logline/ script appeared on a page whether through search, or top list, or just by browsing, I could see that my logline was being viewed. Might help narrow down if perhaps my logline is just not up to snuff.
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Old 04-08-2016, 03:27 AM   #8
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

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I'd love to know how many times my logline has been seen. Sort of like impressions on twitter. I can see how many people actually saw my tweet. It would be nice if whenever my logline/ script appeared on a page whether through search, or top list, or just by browsing, I could see that my logline was being viewed. Might help narrow down if perhaps my logline is just not up to snuff.
This is an interesting idea, but I worry that it's not necessarily representative of industry pros interest in your script. We do measure script views, which should be visible on your script page, which is a much more representative stat, I think.
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Old 04-08-2016, 04:03 AM   #9
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

Quote:
Specific stats on reviewers - I mean, these folks (to a degree) hold our fate in their hands and it's their labor that's being charged (largely). We give evaluation scores for reviewers - it might be helpful to know my reviewer's a) average script score, and b) average rating by submitters.
And how does this help? Just making my observation on an a priori basis, I would say that the best reviewers are probably the ones who give low scores. But I suspect that the reviewers who give high scores are the ones who would receive the highest ratings from the writers.

I have been following this debate about the Black List for several years now, and I have come away with three conclusions or thoughts. Get ready, because these observations are not going to be popular.

Observation 1: Too Much Complaining

Screenwriters trying to break in are always kvetching about a service that provides at least some opportunity to get a script into professional hands and does so at a very reasonable price. Really, just buy two evaluations and a couple of months of listing. If that is not working to get the results that you want, move on. Write another script. See how you feel about the first script after you have written something else.


Observation 2: Unrealistic Self-Assessment

It should be obvious that people have an unrealistic belief in their work. It is usually impossible to get them to open their eyes to the actual quality of their screenplays. This is a good thing in a fundamental way, in that it promotes determination in a writer to pursue a goal without becoming discouraged too easily. Having that dedication to a project is especially important in the initial stages of a work, when doubts can easily be a deterrent to dealing with the challenges of a new script.

But that determination has a distinct downside, too. It fosters a blindness to the fatal flaws of a work, the things that make it dull or clumsy or incomplete. And far too often the writer, in rewriting, does nothing except polish material that will forever remain irredeemable without a complete re-imagining. Every script should be seen as a learning step in a process of becoming a better writer. But far too often an elemental stubbornness takes over and makes the writer believe that some tinkering will eventually please a reviewer who "really understands" and has the "professional competence" that other readers have lacked.


Observation 3: Blaming the Reviewer

Again and again I have seen people advance the argument on this board, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the Black List script evaluations must be flawed, because different readers come up with scores that are significantly different from one another. Clearly, the argument declares or at least implies, the readers are incompetent.

The problem with this kind of argument is that it assumes an objective basis of measurement which not only does not exist, but really cannot and should not exist. What would the critical elements of objective measurement be? Some kind of "Save the Cat" stuff about how far into a script things happen? The "nine-act structure" that enjoyed some currency a number of years ago? And if you get into things like effectiveness of characterization and plotting, you have waded into a swamp of subjectivity, which is exactly where the Black List and all other evaluations operate. You cannot escape the subjective factor in script evaluations. It is always there.

But, even though subjectivity is a problem, it can actually be helpful. If someone gives your script a low score, but another reader ranks it much higher, you have to ask yourself questions about the reasons for the discrepancy in scores. It may be that neither of the readers is at fault. The origin of this critical discordance may lie within your script. Maybe it was the subject material itself, or maybe it was the skill with which you handled it. Some readers are more forgiving than others. I have read scripts with really great material that was, honestly, pretty wretched in the presentation, but I knew that it could all be rewritten to be excellent. The comments of the two reviewers may be helpful in your re-evaluation of your work.

I know that it is puzzling and frustrating to put your heart into something, and then one reviewer gives it an 8 and another a 4. But this is what you always face with any kind of literary work. It is unavoidable that some people will like your work (well, not always) and others will hate it (even if they do not come right out and say so). But the task is always to reach people and make them react favorably. If your script is not working for a reader, it means only that and nothing more. Somebody did not have the reaction that you had hoped. But the reader, no matter how knowledgeable and "experienced" in reading scripts, is still just a person reacting to your story and your characters. Your task is to decide how big a problem his negative response is for your screenplay. If he did not like what you did, you can bet that some other people in your potential film audience would not like it, either. You may be justified in writing off his reaction as an outlier, but on the other hand it could be valuable in helping you to assess whether you are communicating in the way that you wanted.


Final Comment

Okay, I have worked on this screed for about three hours, and I am not going to go back and try to clean up any mess from my continuing edits as I wrote. I will close with a story that is relevant, I think.

From time to time I read a script from Zoetrope. In the not too far distant past, I read a script that pertained to a particular interest of mine. It was a great idea, provided that you have an interest in the general topic. I approached the screenplay with enthusiasm.

However, the writer made the almost universal mistake of having a weak second act. He left some things unexplored and undeveloped that would have added to the strength of the script. And I have to say that it was probably the worst-written work that I have seen in a long time. (I would say that it was the worst that I have ever seen, but that might be stretching it a bit.)

What do you say when sentences are incoherent and full of grossly bad grammar and spelling? What do you say when scenes and sequences would have to be redeveloped because of contradictions or illogical connections?

How do you score something like this, which has considerable potential but is really a failure in its handling of the material? What could have been something excellent became stereotypical, trivial, trite, and predictable. And, again, terribly written.

I spent at least a day in writing up a detailed analysis of the screenplay. I pointed out the technical issues, the lack of logic in a few places, and the need for development within the plot. It all ran to several pages. In scoring his script, I gave him mostly low-to-average scores. I also expressed my interest in the subject, so he presumably knew that I was not being critical because I did not like what he wrote about.

He never responded to my criticism. I have done reviews on Zoetrope for probably fifteen years, and he may be the only person who never replied to me in some way.

Okay, he was probably angry. I get it. But ... you know what? His script was then voted Best of the Month (or whatever it is called).

So now the guy probably thinks that I am just an idiot who did not appreciate his work, while other reviewers were more "competent" in their assessments. In the long run, he got the external validation that he was looking for.
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Old 04-08-2016, 04:51 AM   #10
Friday
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Default Re: An Open Letter to Franklin About the Black List

These changes sound like it would be labor intensive and incur additional costs for the company. The Blacklist, is after all, still a business that has to keep itself profitable. It would mean additional manpower be used to take time to catalogue all of this, when I feel like if the Blacklist would just address the over-exposure concerns expressed in the other thread....it would be much more helpful.

I would much rather the Blacklist offer an additional premium service, where the customer pays a lot more for coverage or development notes to privately cover a script rather than hosting the script.....then, if it reaches the magic cutoff of 8, be eligible for promotion by the Blacklist. Quite frankly, I don't think a script lower than an 8 would move the needle that much anyway.... If it hovers close to an 8, maybe have additional feedback of how to get it to an 8. Agents, producers and managers are busy people and have amazing rosters....the only thing that's going to get them excited is a script that's at least an 8 level or above. They already have plenty of flawed scripts. And, just like with anything else, you buy many purchases at your own risk. If you want to pay for 10 script reads and are getting 4's....that's your prerogative.... I don't have a problem with that. The Blacklist, as a company, has a right to be profitable. Having a premium service at a higher rate, means that it would attract more high quality readers since they would be attracted by the higher pay....and it would alleviate some of the long turnaround problem by having a larger roster of high quality readers. There's a segment that would rather get evaluations to see if they reach an 8, without having to host it.
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