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What You Need to Know About The Black List & Warner Bros' $90,000 Diversity Initiative

Photo of Jai Tiggett By Jai Tiggett | Shadow and Act July 26, 2013 at 1:10PM

What You Need to Know About The Black List & Warner Bros' $90,000 Diversity Initiative
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Black List WB

After announcing its inaugural Screenwriters Lab earlier this month, it turns out that The Black List had more news to come, this time dealing directly with diversity. This week it was announced that Warner Bros has turned to the Black List to identify diverse writers to offer blind deals to. The plan is for Warners to offer up to four deals over the next two years through the partnership, with each deal worth over $90,000.


Every six months, The Black List, using its online script evaluation service, will select a short list of five writers from amongst those who have opted into consideration via the site. Those writers will be invited to submit a one-page personal statement which will be reviewed along with their selected screenplay by the Warner Bros. development and production executive team. One of those writers may be selected to receive a two-step blind screenwriting deal.

I spoke with Black List founder Franklin Leonard to answer some questions about the opportunity and explain what writers should know as they opt in to be considered.

For the purposes of this opportunity, "diversity" is defined by a variety of factors:

FL: It's a very expansive definition that includes diversity based on race, gender, age, disability, all manner of things. The goal is to find writers coming from communities that are severely underrepresented in the industry, and give those people a voice in an industry that struggles to do so despite the fact that there's a great deal of talent out there.

How the two-step blind deal works:

FL: It's a standard two-step deal, identical to any blind deal that Warner Bros. would offer a working writer who's represented by a major agency and who has done work previously. What that means is that once you're offered a deal, you're responsible for generating three ideas that the studio will consider. They can choose any one of those three to have you write. I believe they're also obligated to give you three ideas, meaning projects that they're already developing that they need a writer for. And eventually the studio and the writer will come to a shared point of view on which story the writer should write. Then they'll be paid to do a draft and a rewrite, the value of which is about $93,000.

Writers who aren't chosen for the short list or the blind deal during one period can be reconsidered in the future:

FL: The critical element is that in order to be considered in a submission period, which is six months, your script has to have been hosted on the site for at least a week during that six-month period. So if it's only hosted for a week in the first submission period, but it was hosted for two months beforehand and had tons of really positive ratings, it could be chosen in another period. If you didn't make it to the short list, we'll certainly consider it again.

To give themselves the best possible chance, writers should upload their scripts at least a month before the end of the submission period:

FL: For even one of our paid readers to read a script and then have it go back into the system and get recommended to other people, that process can take about a month. So realistically if you want your script seriously considered in any submission period, you should probably upload it and pay for an evaluation service at least a month before the deadline. So before the end of September [for this submission period]. But again, if they don't end up getting selected for the first one, all of that data we look at again in the next submission period, and the next one, and the one after that. We really do view this as a program with rolling admission.

The script uploaded to The Black List site for consideration should be regarded as a writing sample only, not necessarily work to be produced:

FL: The writer retains all rights to their original script and Warners has no plans to produce it whatsoever, whether they get offered a deal or not.

Your script does not have to be a big-budget action movie, franchise film, or  potential blockbuster:

FL: The reality is that a major studio has a lot of financial obligations that they need to meet, but it's important to remember that Warner Bros. is also the studio that released Argo and Cloud Atlas to great success. A good writer is a good writer. You can write an ultra-tiny drama, but if you're incredibly good at characterization within the drama, maybe you can figure out writing a good action sequence. It's hard to imagine a genre that would be eliminated if the writing is strong.

Though obviously, the script that they're going to be looking for you to write [as part of the blind deal] is one that should have commercial prospects. So you may write an ultra-tiny indie that's very well written, and then when you get the deal because that script is just brilliant, you should come ready to pitch them a movie that is quite bigger. And then, each of the short list writers is invited to submit a personal statement that Warner Bros. will read in conjunction with their script. That'll be a great place to indicate, "Yes, I wrote this small script that I want to direct but I've always wanted to write Indiana Jones." And there are plenty of filmmakers who work in that space. The most obvious example is Steven Soderbergh, who did Ocean's 11 and followed that up with Bubble. So by no means does writing a smaller, indie, non-commercial script mean that Warner Bros. isn't interested in hearing from you about your big movie ideas.

Diverse writers are also welcome to submit diverse content with diverse characters:

FL: Our readers are constantly told not to rate the script based on the commercial viability or how much they think the industry as a whole would respond to it. They're told to rate the script based on how likely they would be to recommend it to a peer or superior, because I find that when they're judging by that standard they're less likely to consider things like a commercial imperative - "this is a women's movie" or "this is a black person's movie." There's this assumption of conventional wisdom about what the market will respond to that translates to diversity on the screen, and I think that conventional wisdom is wrong. We have countless examples of films that are female-driven or diverse in terms of their casting and they're successful largely because of that. If we're talking about Twilight or Fast & Furious or countless other movies, those films are successful in part because a broader audience sees themselves in those movies.

One of the first sales that we had on the site is a script called I Ain't Getting Killed, which is a horror/comedy about a black man who wakes up and realizes that he's in a horror movie, and because he's the black guy, will be killed off first. And so then he has to survive while everyone around him eventually does get killed off. That's a film that is conceptually very commercial, but on top of that, is squarely rooted in a black point of view. It got a really strong read review by one of our readers who isn't black and ended up attracting the attention of many of the members of our site.

It's possible to get your script hosted and/or evaluated on The Black List site for free:

FL: We receive a lot of concern about about expenses. I've given away more free months of hosting than there have been days since we launched. If you follow us on Twitter, follow us on Facebook, read our blog Go Into The Story, participate in the community forums called The Black Board via the website, you will find opportunities to get free months of hosting. It is very possible to get your material up on our site and make it available to 2,000 industry professionals for no money at all.

It's possible to be selected for more than one opportunity offered by The Black List:

FL: You could absolutely get chosen for the Black List Screenwriters Lab and then be selected for the Warner Bros. program. Given that we're trying to find the strongest screenwriters possible, I have to imagine that there's going to be some overlap, but it's too early to say for sure. We'll examine the numbers when we have them closer to the actual deadlines and make decisions based on that, but opting into more or less of any of these opportunities will not make you more or less likely to get any one of them.

There's also the possibility that if we get five really strong scripts and hand them over to Warner Bros., they could offer one more than one blind deal during the submission period. They're hoping to find four people for blind deals over the next two years, but I don't think if they find two writers that they really want to be in business with, they're not going to want to work with them too. It's really about trying to identify the writers we think are most likely to not only get hired by Warner Bros, but also to succeed once they're there.

The first short list for the Black List/Warner Bros program will be announced on November 3. Writers can find more information about the opportunity at Blcklst.com.

This article is related to: Interview


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