The Black List

If you are unfamiliar with this, Stephanie Palmer is here to explain:

The Black List is a list of the most liked, yet unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.

You want to pay attention to the Black List because:

  • It’s a barometer of what stories are resonating in the marketplace.
  • It provides a list of agents and managers with clout.
  • It showcases many fresh, newly discovered writers.

In this post I’m going to explain what you need to know about the Black List, post the complete list, and make one tiny suggestion for how the Black List could be improved.

How are scripts selected for the Black List 2015?

The voters are 250 anonymous film executives (I voted when I was at MGM).

This includes people who are currently employed at production companies and studios as Creative Executives, Directors of Development, Vice Presidents of Development and Production.

According to the Black List, this list is not a “best of,” but rather a “most liked.”

There are definitely other scripts that could have been listed and likely some made the list because executives voted as a favor to their representative friends.

However, in my experience, if you read the Black List scripts from any of the past few years, the top scripts are consistently excellent. Over 225 Black List screenplays have been produced, they have been nominated for 171 Academy Awards, including Best Pictures Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and Argo.

That is why the list has credibility and why Hollywood decision-makers pay attention each year when the list is published.


What are the benefits of being selected for the Black List?

The Black List provides credibility.

For this reason, if your script is on the Black List:

  • Development executives are expected to read your script.
  • Your script is more likely to get optioned or purchased.
  • If the script is in development, it can get additional financing and attachments.
  • You are more likely to get hired for jobs.

On this last point, the Black List is used as a reference when development executives are looking for writers to hire for rewrites.

It’s much more likely that an executive will read a writer’s script and hire that writer simply because they’ve made the Black List.

Are these all new, undiscovered writers?

No. Unproduced does not mean undiscovered.

Most of these screenwriters are represented at the major agencies and many have had other scripts purchased and produced.

However, some of the writers are fresh, newly discovered talent.

How do I get on the Black List?

The barrier to entry to the Black List is high.

You need an outstanding script and representation who pushes your script wide so that lots of executives read it. Bonus points if the script has sold and has major cast attachments. It probably also helps a little bit if your reps send out the script close to the Black List voting period.

What’s the difference between the Black List and the Black List Script Database?

The Black List is a list of the most liked, yet unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.

The Black List Script Database is a service where any screenwriter can pay to list their scripts in an online database. (And in my opinion, paying to list your script is unlikely to improve the odds of your script getting voted onto the Black List).

Here is an excerpt from the Black List site that explains the evolution:

“In 2005, Franklin Leonard surveyed almost 100 film industry development executives about their favorite scripts from that year that had not been made as feature films. That first list – many of which have been made since – can be viewed here.

In October 2012, we extended our mission by allowing screenwriters from the world to, for a small fee, upload their scripts to our database, have them evaluated by professional script readers, and subject to that evaluation and our recommendation algorithm, sent to our – at present – over 1000 film industry professionals.”

I don’t have an agent or a manager, but I want one. How can I tell if an agent on the Black List is legitimate?

If a representative is listed on the Black List, they have proven that they have enough clout to get development executives to read a script.

That may seem simple, but the pool of representatives who can achieve this is a surprisingly small.

Take the list of all the managers and agents included on the Black List, add any representatives who are on the Hit List that focuses on spec screenplays, and you have a pretty good sense of who can get executives to read scripts.

Why are there so many true stories in the Black List 2015? 

In this interview on KPCC, Black List founder Franklin Leonard said,

“True stories and biopics in particular tend to be things that people respond to. If I had to guess, I think that’s probably both a supply-and-demand issue, in that a lot of writers are writing stuff that is based on true stories because of this sort of pre-sold phenomenon in the industry.”

Should I focus on trends and write a true story about an athlete-spy who lives on Martha’s Vineyard and was involved in the making of The Godfather?

No. You should focus on your best and most authentic ideas.

However, if one of your top ideas is a true story you might dust it off, and if you just happened to have a script about the making of The Godfather, you should probably put that on the shelf for a while and work on something else.

Where can I read these scripts? Do you have them?

It’s my policy to only share produced screenplays, but with some clever sleuthing on the internet, you may be able to find the scripts.

How do I read the Black List? What is that number?

The first entry is the script that received the most votes, i.e., Bubbles received 44 executive votes.

Even the scripts at the end of the list received more than five executive votes and that is a mark of success.

Some of these loglines are terrible. I wouldn’t want to see these movies, and I don’t understand how they could have gotten on this list.

The Black List 2015 selection is based on the completed screenplays, not on the loglines. Loglines can be written by the writers, their representatives, or readers.

Sometimes loglines do not effectively communicate what is strong about a script – and that’s too bad.

With that in mind, here’s my suggestion for how to improve the Black List.

What do I think would make the Black List better?

The piece of information that I wish was included for each script is the genre.

Genre gives context that is necessary to understand the story that follows.

Without knowing the genre, it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about the story.

For example, if a writer tells me that he’s got a story about the CIA, I could assume:

  • It’s a thriller like Three Days of the Condor
  • It’s really a drama like The Good Shepherd
  • It’s actually a comedy like Spy.

That’s why I give the following advice to screenwriters:

Whether you are pitching verbally or in writing, lead with genre.

I wish that the Black List included a line for the genre to make it easier to identify projects and writers to read on the Black List.

Thanks to Franklin Leonard and his team for compiling the list and…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s