Prior to about a decade ago, whether or not to upload your screenplay to an online service like Inktip, or a forum, paid or otherwise, was a decision that no screenwriter had to make. There simply was no point to do so, other than for us to share our work via email or in discussion boards, should we be so bold.
But now, uploading screenplays to be listed on a website seems like something many writers are oddly comfortable about. It’s one thing to send your script to a script coverage company like mine for feedback, or to agents and producers directly, or even to the one or two legitimate script contests out there. But for a writer to post their script on a site which promises the potential of exposure and the potential of access —companies like Inktip and The Black List — has become a dismaying new trend from where I sit. This new type of web-Hollywood hybrid — the screenplay directory — has become, in essence, the new middle man in the spec script trade; Inktip and The Black List have somehow convinced scores of new writers that they’re the new gatekeepers, by claiming to be a fast track to the real gatekeepers — that is, the first readers at studios, production companies, and agencies.
So what’s a screenwriter to do? Pay the “new gatekeepers” like the Black List and Inktip in hopes of getting her script read by one of these services? It would seem so, if you’re not paying attention to the real world — the world beyond your mouse and screen.
Is getting your screenplay out onto the web a bad thing? Not necessarily. In my view, there is some utility to be gleaned in doing so, but that utility is limited, and it pales in comparison to the method I can whole-heartedly recommend, which I’ll describe towards the end of this article.
But first, I’ll share some tips on keeping your ideas safe and your intellectual property protected when sending your screenplay out into the wild west of the internet or to any script directory or service that promises the potential of exposure.
Written just one script ever? Keep it offline
Some screenwriters work on a single screenplay for decades. I don’t recommend it, at all, but it’s more common than you’d think. If you’re one such “magnum opus” screenwriter with but one script to offer the world, or if your ideas don’t flow as quickly or as consistently as they do for other screenwriters, you might want to avoid posting your script in any online forum or directory. Why? Because you’ve simply got too much to lose. This is one of the key reasons I recommend that all screenwriters work on multiple projects, and build a reservoir of screenplays over the years. For one, working on a single script often does little to boost your chops. Most first screenplays are often so fundamentally flawed, they’re only rarely salvageable without considerable effort, even after multiple attempts. Further, they’re usually written around what proves to be a stale or trite concept.
Got a completely mind-blowing concept? Keep it offline
If you believe you’ve got a concept that Hollywood would die for, you might want to keep that one private as well. But make sure it’s not just you who thinks it’s a mind-blowing concept. Run it by trusted friends, colleagues, fellow writers, industry friends you have a history with. See if they agree that the concept is amazing. A key way to measure how awesome your concept is is to watch their faces when you tell it to them for the first time. Seriously. If their eyebrows raise, if their jaw drops, if snot blasts out of their nose, you probably have a great concept. If you don’t get any of those physical reactions, chances are, you probably don’t.
Watermark your screenplay
If you’re still up for sharing your script online via some sort of forum or directory or service, make sure you’re protected. Copyright it and register it with the WGA before you ever click SEND on anything.
And while you’re at it, feel free to take some extra precautions. Like watermarking.
Script readers often hate ’em, and they’re not always super-effective in preventing piracy, but many producers use them consistently, to both track and protect their outgoing screenplays. Watermarks can be as complicated as a fancy, washed-out graphic behind the text of every page, spanning from top to bottom, or as simple as Final Draft does it: just one big block of diagonal text that tells you the title of the script.
In Fadein, just select File > Batch Watermark
In Final Draft 9, just select Document > Watermark and type your watermark. The watermark won’t appear on the script until you print it or save the script as a PDF.
In Movie Magic Screenwriter, select File > Print > Setup (upper left corner) > Watermark ( or Production > Watermark Setup on a Mac).
It’s probably best to not mess with any opacity settings, as the defaults all appear to work just fine.
For each place you send your script, send a slightly different, trackable version
It might sound like a lot of work, but if your script leaks to the public when it shouldn’t, or gets stolen or otherwise purloined, there’s an easy way to see which of the venues you sent it to, or which of the people you sent it to, did the leaking and/or purloining.
It’s a bit hammy, but simply add a unique tracking code somewhere in the text of the title page, near the contact information. For example, if you’re sending the script to the Nicholl and to a festival and to a producer named Larry, print/PDF three different versions of the script: “102N” “304F” and “291L”. In this instance, the first three digits are meaningless, but the N, F, and L will remind you you sent the script to “Nicholl,” “Festival,” and “Larry.”
Or, if that’s too much clutter on your title page, another easy, if not equally hammy way to do it is to simply change a word or two in the body of the script itself. For example, on page 14 you might have a line that reads “Susan takes the gun.” For the Nicholl, change “takes” to “grabs.” For the festival, change “takes” to “seizes.” For Larry, change the “takes” to “pockets.” Make sure you remember, of course, which word is associated with which place you sent the script to.
Then, if the worst-case scenario comes true and your script gets purloined, and you subsequently find your script online in a forum with a different title and a different author taking credit for it, you can zip down to page 14 and look for that changed word. You’ll know immediately which of the three venues you sent your script to was probably responsible for the leak/theft (or negligence which allowed the leak/theft.)
Going public with your script – Where to list it?
So you’re ready to get your script out there. You’ve registered it with the WGA, you’ve copyrighted it, and you’ve watermarked it or otherwise protected it so that you have some sort of recourse should the spec hit the fan.
Now you need a place to send it to. And the way I see it, if you’re looking to put your script online for the purposes of gaining exposure or access, or at least the potential thereof, you’ve got several choices, at least two of which I can recommend with, as I mentioned, a whole heart: Inktip and The Black List.
InkTip (AKA Pay us $60 for 4 months and maybe a producer will find your script in our directory and contact you)
Is it just me, or are these guys a bit paranoid?
After almost 20 years being in business reading scripts, and three requests to join InkTip, my production company has never been approved as a Producer on Inktip, able to browse and search for new projects that I might want to buy or option. This, despite my credentials and despite my long history of working with screenwriters. And left without an explanation from Inktip, I can only assume the worst: the Inktipsies are worried that because I’m not just a producer, but I’m a producer that also runs a script reading business, that I’ll go in and poach their users, or somehow lure them away from Inktip with my natural good looks (?)
Getting rejected from Inktip as a Producer has been a frightfully disappointing yet hilarious series of foibles, which usually plays out like this:
1) I sign up on Inktip with my production company, fully disclosing my real name and information, and the fact that I run a script coverage company, (in addition to my IMDB and credentials as a produced, distributed, viable independent feature film writer, director, and producer).
2) I’m contacted by someone at Inktip who says “Hey there, how are you?” and “vets” me, I can only imagine. Cool. I’m all about it. Check me out on IMDB. Talk to who you need to talk to. Confirm that I’m a real life working independent film producer. (And the Inktip guys who vet me? Always nice. Always polite. The most recent time I was rejected, I was asked to provide references that would vouch for my character, which I did promptly, including two long-time Inktip producers.)
3) Crickets. That is, I mysteriously receive no invite and no follow up emails and my account is deleted.
So if you’re thinking of listing a script on Inktip, in the hopes of attracting some sort of producer or interest in your work, all I can say is be careful. Do your homework and talk to people that have used it, and don’t rely on Inktip to sell you on the details. Talk to third parties before you pay Inktip dime one.
Without access as a Producer to Inktip, I can only, like the rest of us, read the mixed reviews and discussions out there in the webby-sphere. That, and trust my producer friends, who are able to use the site from the “Producer” side, when they say that there’s a lot of, well, junk on Inktip to filter through, which doesn’t always make it a pleasant experience. To wit: Only one of my Producer friends has ever optioned a script off of Inktip, in the hopes that the concept could be tweaked to fit my Producer friend’s slate. Ultimately, the writer worked half-heartedly on the project and my Producer friend had to let him go and dump the project.
The Black List (AKA Pay us $25/month and your script, if it’s good enough, might get seen by the right people)
I never used the Black List as a screenwriter, but I can say three things I know about them:
1) The guy who runs the shop responds very, very quickly whenever someone doubts the company or criticizes it on Reddit and other forums. To the point that the screenwriting Reddit at /r/screenwriting is basically just one big ad for The Black List, disguised as a discussion.
2) The opinion of The Black List by the people who use it seems to be very mixed. Some seem to be dazzled by the thought of their script getting some attention while others seem genuinely displeased by the scoring and critique provided, or by the concept itself.
3) The lure of a quick Hollywood script sale is sexy, and that’s what The Black List is selling, so naturally, they’re always popping up in blogs and in media, which causes a sort of self-fulfilling marketing loop for them.
So take a chance on Inktip? Or take a chance on The Black List?
Sure, it’s a bit disappointing as a peer working in the screenwriting services industry to have my production team continually refused admittance into Inktip as a Producer just because I’m a peer working in the screenwriting services industry. My thought is: if I wanted to “poach” Inktip’s users (e.g. contact all the screenwriters on Inktip and say “Hey! Come buy script consulting from me!”), quite simply, two things would happen:
1) Any screenwriter with half a brain would say “Buzz off, jerk! I’m not paying Inktip just to have some third party business solicit me.”
and 2) Inktip would spot any such transgression immediately and boot me.
After having giving them full disclosure up front on the multiple occasions over the years I respectfully requested access, it boggles my admittedly small mind that it hasn’t ever occurred to Inktip that if I was truly interested, not in accessing Inktip as an indie producer in search of material for my companies, Brooklyn Reptyle and The Double Aught Film Concern, but in poaching their users for my script notes business, it would make infinitely more sense for me to use a false name, or borrow a name from IMDB in order to gain access, or at the very least not tell them that I run a script reading bu siness. For Christ’s sake, people! Eat a pot brownie or something. Chill. They’re not coming to get you, Barbara.
So I can only conclude that, while I assume Inktip must be an alternative for some really desperate writers out there (and for some really low-rung producers), Inktip must be desperately afraid of losing business somehow. And any business that afraid of losing business, or that paranoid, in my opinion, is probably not something I’m comfortable throwing money at.
So if I had to… and I mean gun-to-the-head-had-to, choose between Inktip and The Black List, I’d probably just tell them to shoot me. (I’ve led a good long life.) Whatever you choose, whether it’s a paid site like The Black List or a free site like Script Revolution or Script Mother, be careful. And watch out for nuts. As I mentioned, Inktip seems to be operating from a place of pure, unmitigated terror when it comes to letting independent producers who happen to run script analysis companies into their site. And terror, my friends, is not sexy.
But ultimately, if I’m honest, I truly can’t really recommend either of these paid companies, nor any other company that offers the potential of getting your script read and exposed in exchange for cash.
Selling services like script notes and feedback and helping writers, yes. Even script contests, yes. But selling the potential of access and exposure, no.
The best way to make it as a screenwriter is still FREE
It’s a fine line between getting your material seen and protecting your intellectual property, now more than ever. Before the internet, you’d have to manually retype a printed script, or steal a floppy disk, to pirate someone’s screenplay. Now we’ve got all these new channels that make submitting your script to the film industry easier than ever, but due to that same ease, everybody is doing it, making it way harder than ever before to break in.
If you’re serious about making it, sure, you need to get your material read. Sure you need to get people excited about your scripts.
But remember, there’s a whole world out there that’s not the internet.
That is, the key to getting seen, to getting your material read, might actually lie, not in the ease and convenience of submitting your script to Inktip or Black List or any other service, but…
… with good old-fashioned persistence and face time.
What the online services promising to hook you up with Hollywood access are selling basically comes down to one thing: convenience. They’re betting on you not wanting to put too much effort into getting read. They’re betting on you preferring to type in a credit card over driving to LA and hoofing it on a film or two so you can meet people and get your script onto desks. They’re betting on you being so convinced that the only way to make it in the film industry is to upload that PDF and pray you get a good grade.
The truth is, there are still many, many different roads to making it as a screenwriter, and as I said at the get-go these new online “gatekeepers” are just another form of middle man, standing between you and what used to be the gatekeepers.
Why do we fall for it? Again, convenience. Ease. The promise of a possible good outcome. And because, I think, we’ve all forgotten what it means to interact with actual human beings in a real physical space. (Thanks internet!)
And now there’s an entire generation of new screenwriters coming up that have no idea that the old analog ways even existed. To many of them, the only way into the industry is through the welcoming doors of the $25/month Black List, the $60 Inktip, or becoming a YouTube star by lighting their farts on fire.
But let me type it loud and clear:
It’s not about paying anybody for access or listing your script on some directory. It’s about hard work. And friends you help and who help you. And continually getting better as a screenwriter.
So save your cash when it comes to buying exposure or access. Save your cash and get out here and get in front of people, in person. Talk to them. Make friends. Build alliances. Do favors. Work on films. Eventually, your material will be read. Even better, your experiences in the real world, as opposed to the virtual world, will make you a stronger screenwriter, boosting your chances even further that your material will be not only read, but liked.