How subjective is taste?

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  • How subjective is taste?

    I recently decided to read through all of the Black List 2017 scripts. I've finished 10 so far and it's been an interesting experience. Some of them have definitely impressed me. Others...have not at all. Reading a few of these, I never would've guessed that they got any kind of heat at all.

    For example, I just finished reading two more scripts tonight. The first one didn't do much for me. Some fun dialogue, and cute moments, but it felt pretty slapdash, had a weak plot, and overall just didn't seem like professional work. I gave it a hard pass and a really low score in my notes. The second script was extremely well-written and had some very powerful emotional content. Pretty impressive work. I gave it a strong consider and a solid score in my notes.

    Well, after finishing these two, I looked them up. The script that I thought sucked won the Nicholl Fellowship this year! The other script, which I thought was much better, was only a semi-finalist.

    I don't claim that my opinion is any more valid than anyone else's, but I'm genuinely stunned by how varied my reaction to these Black List scripts has been so far. A few have really impressed me. A few have seemed scarcely better than amateur stuff I read on TriggerStreet years ago. I've always believed that screenwriting is more of a meritocracy than a lottery and I still believe that undeniably great work will always get some kind of positive response, but it sure seems like "one man's trash is another man's treasure".

  • #2
    Re: How subjective is taste?

    That is pretty disappointing to hear your experience thus far. I too like to think real quality scripts will find their way to the top somehow eventually. But there's no getting around the fact that tastes vary, and some people have arguably poor taste.

    I think when it comes to the Blacklist quality is not as big a factor as in the Nicholl judging process, so maybe you can take some heart there.

    With the Blacklist, some writers already have a fan base from previous work execs may have enjoyed, or have attachments that boost a project's appeal by association. Others are about a hot topic or suit the flavor of the month in terms of genre, or have industry heat which may cause lemmings to jump on board, or whatnot. One of the worst scripts I read all year made the BL this year -- God only knows how.

    I hope most of the rest you're determined to soldier through are better going forward, reading the entire list is quite a formidable task.

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    • #3
      Re: How subjective is taste?

      Originally posted by DaltWisney View Post
      I recently decided to read through all of the Black List 2017 scripts. I've finished 10 so far and it's been an interesting experience. Some of them have definitely impressed me. Others...have not at all. Reading a few of these, I never would've guessed that they got any kind of heat at all.

      How'd you get to read them? Is there a link to find them? Are they broadly available?

      P.S. Nice post, Muckraker. Agree that's a Herculean task, and there's certainly no accounting for taste.
      Last edited by SBdeb; 12-18-2017, 08:41 PM.

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      • #4
        Re: How subjective is taste?

        They were all linked somewhere on a g drive. I think it may have been on reddit r/screenwriting.

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        • #5
          Re: How subjective is taste?

          The one I was most excited to read had me swooning at the concept and swooning through page one. I read the whole thing in a little over an hour, but I skimmed some and overall thought it was weak and rather gimmicky.

          I noticed a LOT of them were based on existing IP even if it wasn't an actual "what you think of as IP" type thing. Many taking on the idea of Saving Mr. Banks but with a new movie, famous historical situation, etc. It's been a trend over the past few years in the Black List -- I loved the two Jaws movies a year or two ago.

          Looking forward to reading more. They're usually pretty good. I think this was just a "I like this script because I like [pre-existing IP-type thing].

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          • #6
            Re: How subjective is taste?

            Originally posted by cvolante View Post
            The one I was most excited to read had me swooning at the concept and swooning through page one. I read the whole thing in a little over an hour, but I skimmed some and overall thought it was weak and rather gimmicky.

            I noticed a LOT of them were based on existing IP even if it wasn't an actual "what you think of as IP" type thing. Many taking on the idea of Saving Mr. Banks but with a new movie, famous historical situation, etc. It's been a trend over the past few years in the Black List -- I loved the two Jaws movies a year or two ago.

            Looking forward to reading more. They're usually pretty good. I think this was just a "I like this script because I like [pre-existing IP-type thing].
            Yea, so far a lot of them have been based on real people. I've read the JK Rowling, Anne Frank, and Elaine May/Mike Nichols scripts so far. They were all well done, but with 1-2 of them, I didn't necessarily think the story was so spectacular that it could stand on its own right. It felt more like the scripts were trading on the popularity of those figures and using it to elevate an otherwise "golf clap" level story into something that people are apparently really excited about.

            You can understand that from a certain perspective because the true story of JK Rowling launching her career is going to be more compelling to the average potential moviegoer than the exact same story about Jane Doe the fictional character. Built-in fanbase = easier to market and sell. So if you're a development executive, maybe you get excited about that Rowling script even though the story itself is not really that amazing (IMO).

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            • #7
              Re: How subjective is taste?

              Originally posted by cvolante View Post
              ... I loved the two Jaws movies a year or two ago...
              Damn. If I saw a script advertised as "just like Die Hard" or "just like Taken", I'd not read it. Or Jaws.

              And there's already been at least one JK Rowling biopic, authorized or not. C'mon, writers! I know her story isn't "finished yet" (she's only in her early 50s), but her most interesting adventure (so far) is in the early years, obviously. I hope at least that these writers are getting the rights, first.

              No matter, I guess I'm gonna go and write a Casablanca. After I finish up my Spiderman epic. Now that I've done my Lord of the Rings knockoff.

              Incidentally, the best piece of early advice I ever read (it was about one of my scripts via a paid consultant) was: "Keep in mind, reading is a subjective thing", before she proceeded to tear my writing to shreds. But still, the advice was a great little vaccine to help allay that and all the forthcoming criticism.

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              • #8
                Re: How subjective is taste?

                Originally posted by DaltWisney View Post
                I don't claim that my opinion is any more valid than anyone else's, but I'm genuinely stunned by how varied my reaction to these Black List scripts has been so far.
                Look at the thread here about the new Star Wars. Or try to get your friends or family to agree to watch the same movie, let alone have the same opinion once you've all seen it.

                The reassuring part is that scripts you love are getting attention. That means there are fans for your taste. The scary thing is people who hate *everything* they read/watch. This probably isn't the business for those people.

                Ignore what you don't love. See what you can learn from what you do.

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                • #9
                  Re: How subjective is taste?

                  That seems like good advice. Even with the scripts I don't like, I try to ask myself, 'Why did this get a positive response? What is it about this that appeals to people?' Often times I can answer that question, even if I didn't really love the script.

                  Meanwhile I'm continuing through the list. I've started checking the casting/financing status of each project (using the Black List's own PDF document) AFTER I finish reading/scoring it (so as not to go into the read with a bias). So far I'm seeing a little bit of a correlation between my ratings and stuff that appears to have real traction.

                  My two highest rated so far after 13 scripts are the Walter Cronkite/JFK script (Seth Rogen and Mark Ruffalo recently attached) and the Wendy Davis filibuster script (Sandra Bullock attached). I'm not surprised those scripts have attracted big talent, as they're both impressive with some Oscar-y roles. The subject matter doesn't interest me at all, yet they both kept me interested throughout. I read the Cronkite script last night and it felt like I was watching a movie.

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                  • #10
                    Re: How subjective is taste?

                    I'm not so naive as to think that this business is a pure meritocracy. But I'm also certain it's not random.

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                    • #11
                      Re: How subjective is taste?

                      Yeah the Cronkite script NEWSFLASH is an amazing script.

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                      • #12
                        Re: How subjective is taste?

                        Well, you'll see certain scripts make it all the way to the finals or semi finals in some big contests and not even crack the second round in smaller ones... Of course, there are scripts that are contest darlings....but others, where there will be a wide variation..... even judges giving the exact opposite opinions---one loving a particular story choice, the other hating it.

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