Essays · Movies

How I Used The Black List to Sell My First Script and Find Representation in Less Than a Month

By  · Published on December 18th, 2013

by Declan O’Dwyer

I did the whole film school thing ‐ but not until I was 26 ‐ when I got divorced. Jacked my old life and just went for it. I’m heavily tattooed, white, Irish trailer trash. Didn’t know anybody in the business whatsoever, nobody famous, nada, nout, zero, naught, nothing. And, apart from the lasting friendships formed, film school was fucking waste of time! Spent years being lied to, being skint, sleeping on people’s floors. Did every shit job imaginable ‐ anything to pay the rent.

We’ve all done it, I know. Only thing I got from it was learning that if you want it, you have to do it yourself. Actually, a little caveat to that: the editor on my current gig was actually in my class at film school ‐ so retrospectively I guess I did get something out of it (19 years later).

Now, I’m a jobbing director ‐ been fortunate enough to have worked on some pretty funky high-end TV shows like Atlantis, Merlin, Being Human, Robin Hood, and Wire in the Blood. I’ve also done more than my fair share of the shite TV stuff ‐ and everything in between.

As my transition into features, I’d written this contained Irish revenge thriller called Broken Cove. Spent 18 months or so trying to get it airborne ‐ and when the finance fell through for the umpteenth time, I just said “Fuck it.”

I knew of The Black List ‐ the famed Black List of old at least, heard it had gone online. Read some stuff about it. Procrastinated. I said this before and I’ll type it again for posterity: my DVD collection, all our DVD collections, would look a lot fucking worse if it weren’t for Franklin Leonard and The Black List. So I was intrigued. However, I was still skeptical ‐ any service that seems to monetize peoples’ dreams, aspirations and desperations ‐ I won’t subscribe to that church, brother, I’ve worked too damn hard for my coins.

Another bloody caveat; I’m not saying for one minute that all script services are like that ‐ but I’d had my ball bag singed a few years back with one of those services here in the UK ‐ it was a total fucking rip-off. My mum could have written better coverage ‐ and she doesn’t know whether she’s taking a shit or having her hair cut.

However, Franklin’s mission statement was different ‐ he wasn’t promising shit. So, I looked deeper into it, the hosting, the feedback system, the fees. I thought the fees were comparatively small compared to the other services I’d seen ‐ especially when you think of the skillset you’re getting. These readers are working professionals that do this for a living, reading scripts, breaking them down, analyzing ’em, and posting up coverage. When you think about it ‐ it’s fucking priceless actually.

[Editor’s Note: Listen to our interview with Black List founder Franklin Leonard for more info on how the service works]

It all seemed really simple and transparent. So, at silly o’clock one morning I posted Broken Cove up on the list and paid for a couple of reads to test the water.

I shat myself with excitement when the first reads came back in a week or so later. They were good, man, great in fact, a couple of 8s and a couple 9s for dialogue. The coverage was cool ‐ so I thought I’d use that in future pitches n’stuff. So, I paid for a couple more reads. More 8s and 9s. Obviously, I concluded I was a genius.

Then I had a 4 ‐ a fucking 4, for the dialogue. Fuck you, Black List! I was so pissed off. When I calmed down I read it again, and again. The score was shit ‐ but the coverage was great, insightful actually. And, in the cold light of day ‐ they were right (not about the dialogue ‐ they were talking outta their ass about that) but they were right about other stuff. Real easy fixes, simple tweaks that made my script better. Then it occurred to me what an amazing tool this was ‐ what can I say, I’m not bright, but I am clever enough to know how dumb I am.

So, I used the Black List as my script editor. Paid for a couple more reads ‐ even posted a 2nd and 3rd script ‐ just to get the notes. All this happened in only a few weeks. When I got poor feedback or just blatant bad feedback, I was brutally honest with myself, and after those initial “Fuck you!” moments I was suddenly having “Fuck me!” moments. Whether you like the coverage or not, that’s irrelevant ‐ we learn much more from criticism than we do from praise. You have to remember it’s not about you. Leave your ego at the door ‐ it’s all about the page.

If I thought the negative comments were valid, I’d process and adapt accordingly. Vice versa, if I thought the negative comment was bollocks ‐ I wouldn’t do it. Then, one day I got an email out of the blue from wunderkind Manager/Producer, Brooklyn Weaver at Energy Entertainment ‐ he’d downloaded Broken Cove from The Black List website and wanted to talk. Did I have representation in the US?


It was that simple ‐ that out of the blue. I signed with Energy shorty after ‐ and then next call was Basil Iwaynk’s Thunder Road Pictures (The Town, Clash of the Titans, The Expendables) are really interested ‐ and Broken Cove became the first international signing from The Black List.

That was just the start. It then went a little crazy for a while. A tornado of late night/early morning Skype calls with countless agents, producers and studios. Oh the joy of an 8 hour time difference, eh! Brooklyn guided me through and I found a home at WME ‐ repped by the holy trinity of Donnelly, Esola and Schuit.

Then came the raft of Open Writing Assignments ‐ pitching for remakes, re-writes etc. It’s all very cool indeed ‐ but I’m a director first and foremost and don’t want to invest all my time and energy writing shit for other people. (Although, I have to confess ‐ there’s a couple of pure gems that I’m still chasing). Smack bang in the middle of all this kicking off ‐ my son was born. Fencing US calls in the early hours of the morning with a screaming baby on your shoulder is not cool. It did happen. Then a slight hiatus ‐ I went onto directing BBC’s epic Atlantis for 25 weeks ‐ now just coming up for air.

Ding, Ding, back for Round Two!

So, The Black List has worked for me. In three weeks ‐ and $300 ‐ $350 bucks later ‐ it totally changed my career trajectory. Yeah, I put in fuckin’ years of sweat equity ‐ but that’s what Spec writing is. Sweat equity.

The Black List doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t pre-judge. It doesn’t give a flying fuck who or what you are, where you come from, your back ground ‐ all irrelevant. Only thing that matters is the here and now and the script you post up. The Black List levels the playing field and in doing so ‐ opens up Hollywood to anybody.

But, hey, don’t listen to me ‐ opinions are like assholes ‐ everyone has got one. However, if by some chance this inspires or provokes you enough to say “Ah, fuck it, why not?”, upload your script ‐ and if you get signed ‐ buy me a Guinness.

More to the point, buy Franklin one.

Declan O’Dwyer is a filmmaker from Ireland who clearly loves cursing and good beer. The script he writes about here was also just listed on The Black List’s survey of the most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood.

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