How a Wannabe Screenwriter's Self-Promotion Backfired

Rambling - Van's Best Friend - Billboard -Publicity- H 2018
Courtesy Photo

A screenwriter named Henry C. King rented out billboards (above) — one on Cahuenga Boulevard across from Universal Studios and another on Venice Boulevard in Culver City — to advertise his spec script, Van's Best Friend. The billboard teases that it's "available at The Black List" (not as a pick of the annual list that selects the year's best unproduced screenplays, but on the portion of the website that hosts, reviews and distributes scripts).

In mid-April, prompted by the billboards, writer-producer Brian Scully (not The Simpsons and Family Guy's Brian Scully) started live-tweeting his reactions to the material, which includes a dog that may have been reincarnated as a shark. After eviscerating the script, inspiring a Reddit thread and backlash, Scully defended himself, tweeting, "He blew a ton of cash on public requests to read his script," likely $2,000 to $15,000. "I responded just as publicly to a poor script loaded with sexism, misogyny and racism."

The billboard company, Outdoor Advertising, did not return requests for comment, and attempts to track down King were unsuccessful. The Black List founder Franklin Leonard confirms that the script is no longer on the site.

Reached via email, Scully tells The Hollywood Reporter that pulling off a successful stunt to get noticed is "exceptionally" rare. "In many ways, the more grandiose the stunt, the more impressive the script needs to be. Spending so much money on an actual billboard advertisement just to promote uploading a script to a website? That takes massive confidence and self-assurance," he explains. "It's putting around five figures of cash on the line just to try and get downloads. It's madness. It's a complete waste of resources. It's honestly why I hope this is somehow part of some larger plan, something experimental, something bigger than just a writer putting a script on The Black List and dropping a ton of cash to advertise its presence." 

A version of this story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.