Yesterday brought the unveiling of the Black List, the annual collection of the most popular as-yet-unproduced scripts in Hollywood, which tends to somewhat set the agenda for the next couple of years of non-tentpole movies: the likes of "Juno" and "The Social Network" have topped it in previous years and gone on to immense success, and virtually every studio-backed indie crossover hit has made its way onto the list in the past few years.
Traditionally, the unveiling of the list has seen most, if not all, the scripts go online for download almost immediately, through less-than-legal means, usually on the download site Mediafire. The script-trading climate has changed in recent weeks, however, with a $15 million lawsuit being filed by Twentieth Century Fox against collector Patricia McIlvaine, an aspiring screenwriter who posted a number of scripts on a Mediafire library, including, crucially, the in-progress version of the future Ryan Reynolds superhero flick "Deadpool," which Fox particularly took exception to (they'd previously forced a number of sites to remove script reviews, although strangely not the Gawker-owned io9, who presumably can afford better lawyers).
Fox, who have scripts like "Stoker," "Jackie," "Chronicle" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (the latter probably being the one the studio most wants to protect) on the Black List, are again the ones throwing their legal weight around, sending cease-and-desist letters to Mediafire, which was yesterday hosting PDFs of Black List scripts (which, remarkably, The Hollywood Reporter were linking to -- are they going to find themselves in trouble too?); the links were pulled almost immediately.
There certainly seems to be something of a sea change -- but really, the biggest surprise is how long it's taken for the studios to take action. On the one hand, it's a very small minority of people swapping and reading scripts, and it's not hurting the box office in the way that, say, the leak of a work print of "Wolverine" did. Fox's legal complaint when they sued McIlvaine was that the publicly available scripts "interfere and trade off of the costly and carefully designed creative processes that produce finished works ready for public consumption. They harm the fans who do not want their enjoyment of a movie or a television show to be spoiled by knowing the story ahead of actually being able to watch it."
This isn't quite a watertight argument -- it's unlikely that a fan not actively looking for details of the plot of "Deadpool" would just stumble across them, but it's a debate worth having, and one that we fully admit that we're part of. The increasing scrutiny of every part of the filmmaking process, in the internet age, is a double edged sword -- for instance, when sites leaked a controversial ending in the script for "Terminator: Salvation," fan outcry over it was so great that the filmmakers changed it, to the detriment of the finished product.
It must be heartbreaking for filmmakers to have their entire plot details leaked before filming has even begun (and, when we do refer to scripts, we try to talk as little as possible about the plots), but, at the same, we'd rather that they stuck to their guns than listened to the ravings of rabid talkbackers, who for the most part don't have even the faintest grasp of filmmaking. But anyway, we digress...
While it's frustrating for script collectors, many of whom genuinely only read the scripts to improve their craft, to not be able to get their hands on this year's Black List, there's a sense of entitlement from some of those complaining that we find a little tricky. Ultimately, it's copyrighted material, and downloading it is as illegal as torrenting the finished film, and we include ourselves among the hypocrites here. We're interested in seeing how this one develops, but it looks like, for now, it's going to be much harder to get your hands on unproduced scripts.