Want to know what the best picture contenders for the Oscars might be in a couple of years? Well, take a look at something called the Black List — the 2014 version is just out.
The Black List is a roster of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Having read countless bad screenplays as a junior film executive, founder Franklin Leonard e-mailed his industry friends and asked them to send him the 10 best screenplays they had read that year.
Ninety people responded, so Leonard tallied up the votes and sent the compiled list back to those who had voted. And just like that, The Black List was born.
For the last 10 years, Franklin Leonard has aggregated the list, which has championed success stories like "Juno," "American Hustle," and "Argo," while becoming one of Hollywood's top resources for finding unfinanced screenplays. Many Black List films have gone on to win Oscars for best picture.
The idea for the list came to Leonard when he was a junior development executive at the production company of Leonardo Di Caprio. Franklin was tasked with finding quality scripts for the actor, and he couldn’t seem to find a single one.
Hollywood loves to figure out ways to game the system and it's certainly a popular sport among agents and managers. How do you make sure no one games the system to promote their scripts?
Here's what I can say, I've never been offered a bribe and I've been gratified by that. There is certainly money to be made by having the client on the list, or having a script on the list, so you would think that at least somebody, at least one person, would call me and say, "Hey, listen, I need a favor, or hey listen, there's $50,000 in a dropbox somewhere. Never happened.
The assumption is that there is a creative meritocracy among screenplays in Hollywood, that the cream will rise to the top. The list clearly suggests that isn't the case. Does getting a script on the list, in your mind, create a better opportunity for that film to get produced?
If you've written a great script, eventually it will probably fall into the right hands, but that eventually could be literally decades. I hope that what the Black List does is create a far more efficient marketplace for that material. There's a distinction for me between causation and correlation, and I think that the correlation between scripts that are on the list and their success every year means there's more attention to the scripts that are on the list and we've created a virtuous cycle, where we have a catalyzing effect, but we're certainly not getting the movies made. We wanted to create something where the gap between being a working writer and being an aspiring writer was simply being a good writer.
The intention and the approach of the Black List has remained pretty consistent over the years, you poll what would be known as creative executives, generally, about what they think are the best unproduced screenplays. How has it evolved over those 10 years and how would you say it has changed the most materially?
The annual list remains very much the same as it was when it began. Beyond that, though, I think we've built a large number of things underneath that with the goal of being a tide that raises all boats in the industry, and most especially the boats of writers and ... the boats of good writers. Among those things is our website, which functions as a searchable database of any screenplay that anybody could want to make. We also invite writers from all over the world to upload their scripts to our site, have them evaluated and if they're good, we tell the entire industry. There are a number of initiatives focused on film and focused, in our case, on screenwriters.
There are people who have done what you have done before, in terms of script evaluation services, and they prey on people who don't have a molecule of talent. Will you tell people who clearly have no writing talent whatsoever to not quit their day jobs?
Absolutely. What I will say is two things, the first is that when we first launched the website there was a sort of an outcry that was sort of in the online screenwriting community saying we were rating scripts too highly because we wanted people to continue giving us money. There was a larger outcry, which was that our readers didn't know what they were talking about because they never gave any high scores. Obviously both things can't be true, and the fact of the matter is that no, our readers are incredibly tough, we give very, very high scores, fewer than three percent of the scripts that are submitted to us get a rating of eight or better, which actually merits them getting recommended to industry professionals. We're very transparent about the fact that you at any time as a member of our site, you can go online and see how many people have looked at your script page, how many people have downloaded your script. I've said hundreds of times and I'll say it again, if we're not getting traction for your script on the website, please stop giving us your money.