03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The 2009 Black List Revealed

Behold the Black List! The coveted list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year, compiled by about 300 development executives and high-level assistants ranking the hottest unproduced scripts in town, is out! At 11:00 this morning, Franklin Leonard, the Director of Development at Universal Pictures and the founder of the list, emailed it out to all the people who voted on it. By lunch, it'll be the talk of the town. Like anything hot, the Black List has its naysayers. One producer gripped to me this week that the list has become political, with some screenwriters begging for help to get on it. An agent at a top firm says there are problems with the process, but overall, the Black List remains a valuable, good thing:

"I love getting it at the end of the year because it's a good chance to educate the town on great material and new voices. I work with a few Black List writers and the word definitely gets a foot in the door for meetings. Another benefit of the blacklist is that it draws attention to projects that might otherwise sit in development for years, but get a little extra attention and momentum when the list is published. The thing I do find sort of strange is that representatives (agents, managers) aren't allowed to vote, ostensibly because we'll be partial. Which means that producers and studio execs often end up voting for projects they are on and just trying to push forward, and writers sometimes pull favors with execs to get a mention. I would imagine if we (agents and managers) were all asked to pick our favorite script of the year, especially if it was anonymous, it would really be a compilation of the cream of the crop (imagine asking a teacher to pick their favorite student, but in an anonymous note!). Also good is the Brit List, which was just started this year in the UK and has been helpful for UK writers."

Scott Neustadter, co-writer of indie hit "500 Days of Summer," says the recognition alone goes a long way, at least for morale building in a tough job. "Most screenplays go unproduced," says Neustadter.

"We know this and thus a screenwriter, for there to be any chance of his or her not going insane, has to measure success in one of two ways -- the first is financial (even an unproduced script can pay for a mortgage) and the second is, simply put, the fact that people like your work.
The problem with the second thing is that we don't always know. Agents tell us one thing, studio execs another, and the movie fan (for whom we're ultimately trying to reach) couldn't care less about our work until there's cameras involved. That's the beauty of the black list. While it may not represent the totality of what people think, it's definitely the best and most comprehensive thing out there that tells us writers how we did. We've had 3 scripts on the list in the four years we've been out here. It's immensely gratifying every time."