Founder, The Black List
Franklin Leonard is the founder of The Black List, a website that aims to connect potential screenwriters with filmmakers. The site allows users to upload their screenplays and earn ratings from the site’s community, with the possibility of seeing their work actually produced into a movie. Leonard shares a brief but spectacular take on how the tool could help grow Hollywood inclusivity.
Judy Woodruff: Franklin Leonard is the founder and the CEO of The Black List. The company is best known for supporting screenwriters through its annual survey of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.
In tonight’s Brief But Spectacular, Leonard explains how the list has gradually introduced Hollywood to a diversity of new ideas and voices.
Franklin Leonard: I was a junior executive in Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. My job was to find great screenplays, and I wasn’t doing a very good job with that.
So, I took a survey of my peers in the industry and said, send me a list of your 10 favorite scripts that haven’t been produced. In exchange, I will send you the combined list, and that’s what I did.
The scripts that were on the list became movies, and those movies became very successful.
I called it The Black List because as a double reference. It’s a tribute to the writers who lost their careers during the Black List of the McCarthy era, and it was also an inversion of the notion that black somehow signified bad.
What if there was a black list that people wanted to be on?
The Black List Web site allows anybody on earth to upload their English language screenplay, and, in addition, you can pay a small fee to have that script evaluated by a reader who has experience reading screenplays in Hollywood.
And if the script is well-received, receives, let’s say, an eight out of 10 or better, we spread the good news of the script to over 4,000 industry members that range from assistants at the major agencies all the way up to studio presidents, A-list actors and directors.
There’ve been over 1,000 screenplays on the annual Black List survey. More than 300 had been produced. Those movies have won more than 50 Oscars and more than 200 nominations. Four of the last nine best pictures were Black List scripts, “Argo,” “Spotlight,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The King’s Speech.” And 10 of the last 22 screenwriting Oscars have gone to annual Black List scripts.
So it no longer matters whether you live in Los Angeles. It no longer matters what you look like, who you know. What matters fundamentally is, can you write a great screenplay that someone wants to turn into a movie?
We’re a catalyst for attention by saying, hey, everybody, everybody says this is good. It makes everybody say, maybe I should take a second look.
I don’t think Hollywood is inherently racist or sexist, any more than America is racist or sexist, which is to say that, historically, power has been accreted into the hands of a small group of people who come from very similar backgrounds.
And until that power is dispersed and inclusive, it’s hard to imagine a system that that isn’t racist, sexist and many other things.
The industry is making a subset of material based on a set of conventional wisdom that is all convention and no wisdom. And, as a consequence, the industry as a whole is not as profitable as it could be.
My name is Franklin Leonard, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on The Black List.
Judy Woodruff: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.