If you’re an aspiring Screenwriter on a budget, this is for you
Recently I wrote an essay about my attempts to become a Professional Screenwriter and it spread in ways I couldn’t have imagined. My perspective was one of an Educator, of an Explorer wanting to go visit and research opportunities and report personal impressions. I’m not a Journalist, that I’m fully prepared to acknowledge.
During my journey through various Internet outposts, I found Reddit’s r/screenwriting forum and lurked. After all, I’m a Guitarist and Fiction writer at the outset, so studying became a great way to use the site. Several legit Industry Writers and players. Talk of Contests and opportunities.
In modern Customer Service, it pays to monitor Social Media and Forums for mention of the brand. When it goes right, a Customer’s complaints get addressed in a way for the world to see. The catch is that when airing dirty laundry in public, others may be watching.
That’s how I came to see The Black List as a legal Confidence Scam.
Explain Confidence Scam in this Context
A Confidence Scam is simple in that it uses a Person’s emotions to appeal to an Irrational Action against their better judgment. In the case of The Black List, the business model is one of charging fees for Hosting (“Industry Access”) and Evaluations (“Quality May Vary”) where the appeal of joining and paying is to get access to an Exclusive Arena. The sky’s the limit!!!
Talking with a co-worker who had some run-ins with “Feeder Funds” of Bernie Madoff, he was happy to note The Three Hallmarks of a Scam. They are conditions that can apply across many different subjects or attack vectors, as he told it — call this kind of Wisdom a perk of the job.
Let’s see how many of those three Red Flags might apply to The Black List as a marketplace for Writers uploading and paying for hosting:
- There is Exclusivity — it takes money or connections to get in
- You Don’t Know How it Works — there’s no simple explanation
- The Returns are Too Good To Be True — temptation is strong
Take the time to think about what The Black List advertises; how much of the reputation and marketing surrounding success trigger one or more of the Red Flags of a scam in principle?
Dishonest Marketing Stinks from a Mile Away
I mentioned Customer Service earlier and went about listing the scam Red Flags to let them collide here with how Franklin Leonard goes about protecting his brand.
He gets into forums, wrestles for a while with words offered, some high minded discussion about Subjectivity, offers Coupons and calls it a day.
It’s a smart business model — take the high road as often as possible. Except Franklin Leonard ain’t got no High Road. I needled him about if he actually had criteria for his Readers in the Paid Evaluation sector, and he said No.
He asserted “All art is Subjective” and I called Bullshit. There are Objective parameters in nearly any art-form that can be recognized by consensus as having merit — in the case of Screenwriting, I specifically cited a Three Act Structure and Character Consistency. Basic spelling?!
Instead of acknowledging that most of the Film Industry does care about such Objective criteria, Franklin slipped into a Fallacy of Authority to try and claim that the Readers for Evaluations on The Black List are so experienced calling into question their abilities is uncouth.
Okay, he might have a point there, if it wasn’t for the consistent chorus of dissatisfied Customers offering evidence that the Readers barely skimmed a piece before slapping on some arbitrary numbers.
Fool me once, shame on you…Fool me twice…don’t get fooled again! — President 43
From the Reader issue I pivoted to discussing the business model of The Black List with Franklin, in that he was very forward pointing out many of the Customers who paid to host a piece probably had no chance of getting picked up.
It was his way of deflecting responsibility, as though the Customers should know that the service they were paying for was a Placebo more than any genuine stepping stone to Stardom.
Let me be clear, once I found out that Franklin was cool with the business model I asked him for some Analytics.
How many pieces does The Black List host? How many of those pieces are optioned per year? What are the odds?
These were cold hard numbers that The Nicholl Fellowship and Shore Scripts both post at the end of their cycle. He dodged at every opportunity. If The Black List is such a great catapult to success, then the numbers will show it. Or, maybe there’s a reason not to show any spreadsheets…
The Black List Survey vs. The Black List Website
Here’s where it took me a long time to cut through the marketing and the history to see things for what they really are:
Franklin Leonard likes to conflate the success stories from The Black List Survey with examples from The Black List Website. Those are two very different Environments. Franklin makes money hoping you think by paying for the latter you might make it on the former.
Think I’m stretching things? Check out his own website:
Nowhere does it mention that of those 300 screenplays, most were already floating around the Film Industry and simply picked up by Franklin’s Black List Survey. It kind of makes it sound like those 300 screenplays came through the Website marketplace being advertised, doesn’t it? After all, that sounds like an Exclusive Club worth paying to join if possible…
While my gut instinct was just enough to go public at first with my impressions of Franklin, I discovered the guy let vanity disarm his guard and spill his guts and let this piece prove my point about his appraoch:
The Hollywood Black List everyone wants to be on
by Alex Wagner In the age of the gargantuan blockbuster, it wasn't immediately clear that the story of a suicidal…
He actively cultivates Screenwriters confusing The Black List Survey with The Black List Website. Look closely.
He’s got a Harvard Degree. This man is no fool. This is no accident.
If was him, I sure wouldn’t want anybody poking around asking about Customer ROI and Analytics either. When Reputation is the Calling Card, when the Brand is what gets paid for and somehow that balloon gets deflated for the world to see…well, survival is one hell of an instinct.
The upside is that Franklin is in control and can fix his approach quickly. Fork the two names and be honest. If what is offered is truly of merit, a minor thing like a name + domain change ain’t much of a hiccup. Separate the Survey from the Website, or keep playing 3 Card Monte at your own peril…