Reflections of Black List San Francisco Mini-Lab Writers

November 6th, 2015 by

On the weekend of October 16-18, four writers gathered in San Francisco for an exciting event: The fourth Black List Mini-Lab. The writers — Rachel Bublitz, Sarah Archer Moulton, Elizabeth Oyebode, and Joe Rechtman — had been selected on the basis of scripts they had uploaded to the Black List website and a personal statement about the story they were writing and their creative aspirations.

Over the weekend, they hung out with the Black List team and met one on one with Franklin Leonard, and screenwriters Matt Aldrich and Victoria Strouse to discuss their scripts, then participated in two workshop sessions with me as group leader.

Here are some reflections about their individual and collective experience from the weekend they spent together. Their observations are both illuminating and inspiring.

Rachel Bublitz

The Black List mini-lab turned my brain to mush in the best possible way. I am new to writing screenplays, Girl Friend, the script that was workshopped, is actually my first attempt to write for the screen, having only written plays up until now, and so I knew I would have a lot of catching up to do. We started off the weekend with a peer review session, lead by the brilliant script-whisperer Scott Myers. He had us answer some hard hitting questions, things from, what inspired you to write this script, to, what about your script needs the most work, and after a brief discussion of our answers told us not to worry and to stay strong. This was my first moment of wondering, what have I gotten myself into? I’ve had many peer review and workshop experiences in the theater, but maybe they’re more cruel in the movies? It wasn’t long until I understood exactly what he meant.

My first mentor session came up, I was working with Victoria Strouse. She started by asking me if I was up for hearing the hard truth, and after telling her I’d be fine she dove right in. Her feedback was incredible and cemented some ideas that I already had been kicking around, as well making it pointing out the reasons behind some flaws that up until that point I had known were issues, but couldn’t for the life of me explain why. With each note she gave me, I got a new idea, she was lighting hundreds of light bulbs in my head. All I wanted to do when we finished up was to lock myself behind a door and start writing, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t until after my second mentor session that I understood Scott’s warning, it wasn’t about hurt feelings, it’s that our brains were going to be on idea over-load.

My second session, after a quick lunch – because these wonderful folks FEED you as well – was with Black List founder, Franklin Leonard. “Tell me your life story,” he said. So, light stuff. I had a moment when I considered what story to give, we all have different versions of the same events that we go back and forth between based on who we’re with. Typically if it’s someone who could potentially connect you with a job, you’d give them the polite version, but this was not one of those times. After I was through telling him the basics of my life, he followed up with why I hadn’t incorporated more of it into the script, and more light bulbs went on like crazy. Again, I wanted only to find a room with a power cord and a door to lock so that I could pound away on my computer. But like last time, I didn’t have time, after our second session we were off for a fabulous dinner, quickly followed – for me anyway – by as much sleep as I could get before the following morning.


Rachel Bublitz

Sunday morning, my last mentor session was with Matthew Aldrich, and, I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the point in which so many light bulbs were turned on in my brain that it would overheat, liquifying the contents. We talked about structure, about character arcs, character archetypes (the protagonist that changes vs. the steadfast protagonist), and the core idea in my script that if taken away would make my script no longer my script. More than once I asked Matt to repeat himself, trying to memorize his words. It was an epic session in which everything I thought about the screenplay I was writing was turned on its head. I didn’t have the urge to write after this session, no, I wanted to sit and think for a few years in a quiet dark place. As you might guess, that wasn’t exactly an option.

Before the goodbye dinner, we get one last extra-long peer review session, we share the notes we each got from the mentors, the notes we have for our peers, and Scott then goes over his notes he has on each of our projects. Thank God for Scott. In that meeting he helped restart our brains, slowly turning off light bulbs that weren’t going to help us on our journeys. He made sense of the -sometimes conflicting- notes from the mentors, and afterward I felt much, much, much, much better.

The lab was fantastic for so many reasons, how often do you have industry professionals read your work and then respond to you in person? For me? Never. Never before, at least. But, and while this is amazing, it doesn’t scratch the surface of the benefits. Writers can’t help but write in vacuums, we all know this. So often we’re one person with one computer, typing away all by ourselves. It’s hard to see the forest when you’re running through the trees. The lab gives you four professionals, each with a different helicopter, that offers a different view of the forest you’re creating, and the final one also passes along a few mapping options to boot. Not only did I rethink how to tell the story I wanted to tell, but it made me rethink how I’m going to tell stories going forward in my career. I can’t recommend this lab enough.

Sarah Archer Moulton

The weekend of the Black List San Francisco Mini-Lab encompassed probably the most productive two days of my writing career thus far, which is remarkable considering that I spent those days not actually writing. When I received the invitation to join the Mini-Lab, I was thrilled, knowing that the Black List name promised something worthwhile, but knew little of what to expect in terms of specifics. But as I prepared by reading the scripts of the three other writers, my excitement only grew. A batch of scripts displaying such diversity in genre and in the types of stories we were telling was a clear indicator that this event, whatever it was, was not about churning out cookie-cutter screenplays.

Megan Halpern from the Black List team put us all at ease from our first evening together (and did a masterful job of picking the restaurants for the weekend, by the way). As we eased into the workshop the next morning with introductions, we were lucky enough to hear some amusing career anecdotes from our two writer mentors, Matt Aldrich and Victoria Strouse. More than that, they shared valuable, clear-headed insights into their own success. The fact that they’ve both advanced their careers through writing scripts they were truly passionate about became a centerpiece of the weekend for me, focusing my approach to my own script.

As I went through the one-on-one sessions with Franklin, Victoria and Matt, I was consistently grateful and impressed at their close reading of my work and the thought-provoking, yet not didactic, way in which they walked me through their notes. I went into the sessions with ideas about how I wanted to improve my screenplay within the context of what it already was, and left with ideas for how to make it something totally new (and better). But while the feedback I received was honest and eye-opening, it was also sensitive to my vision for the screenplay and emphasized that, ultimately, I have to make the decisions for my own work. I have a feeling that possibly the most educational aspect of this whole experience for me will be learning to take a range of notes, sometimes conflicting or divergent, and sift through them, seeking in each case the note behind the note and respecting its intention while also finding an expression of it that fits the total picture of what I’m aiming to write.

Sarah Moulton

Sarah Archer Moulton

The start of this sifting process came in our group wrap-up session with Scott Myers. Given the variety of scripts we had brought to the table, it was fascinating to see how he was able to apply the same fundamental concepts and questions to each of them. The feedback I got from Scott and the other writers on my script, in the context of the feedback I had already received from the mentors, helped to set me on the right path as I embarked on the rewrite journey and also encouraged me to stay true to what attracted me to the world of my screenplay in the first place. Just as informative, though, was listening to the notes the other writers had received in their sessions and watching as Scott walked each writer through his or her story. While I had read all of the scripts and compiled my own notes in advance, Scott pointed out potential problems and things to think about that hadn’t even occurred to me, which I realized I could also translate into my own writing. I can’t wait to see how the other writers’ scripts turn out and predict that having each other to bounce ideas off of going forward will be one of the best things we all take away from this experience.

Overall, the Mini-Lab seemed to me to be emblematic of what Franklin and the whole Black List team are doing on a larger scale. Working with The Black List is probably the single most viable way for a screenwriter to get his or her voice heard from outside of the Hollywood system. This workshop was not about who you knew, what your credits were, what industry experience you had – the entire weekend was one hundred percent about the writing. It was about quality, intelligence, and truthfulness in storytelling. It offered hope that those ephemeral qualities of inspiration, creativity and boldness do have professional relevance in today’s industry. It brought us all back to why we wanted to make movies in the first place.

Elizabeth Oyebode

As one of four writers selected to attend The Black List’s San Francisco Mini-Lab, I suspected I would be in store for quite a productive weekend. I was not disappointed.  As a writer, it’s easy to get demoralized, to start to question your voice, to wonder whether the stories you’re so passionate about will be limited to an audience of 1.

This mini-lab weekend was all about reinvigorating our spirit and reminding us that the light that sparked inside us did so for a reason and that our stories are likely to ignite that spark in others. It became apparent very early on in the mini-lab how committed everyone was to seeing us develop the best scripts possible.

The one-on-one mentoring sessions with Matthew Aldrich, Victoria Strouse, and Franklin Leonard were very intensive and eye-opening.  First and foremost, each mentor was deeply committed to getting to the heart of the story I had written. Each had a unique perspective on the script, so I ended up getting not just one approach, but several and each had merit. From the art of the biopic, to the unyielding nature of the protagonist’s central conflict, to development-side considerations, each conversation introduced a puzzle piece that made finding the “right” version of the story just that much easier. Their input was incredibly incisive and constructive.

Elizabeth Oyebode

We also were given the opportunity to workshop each other’s scripts with the awesome Scott Myers as our moderator.  Scott’s approach was both systematic and personal. Scott asked a series of thought-provoking questions, which later aided us in discussing our personal ties to the scripts at present and to the stories we ultimately wanted to tell with them. Overall, the peer workshop was very collaborative and quite liberating. My fellow participants were gracious, insightful, and eager for feedback. As we dove deep into each of the scripts, it was enlightening to hear what resonated with them and why. We got the opportunity to speak highly about what worked and openly about what we felt could be improved. We even started taking our stories in new directions that had not been considered before.

Over the course of the weekend, the Black List team and mentors were so welcoming and I very much enjoyed all the great grub (Megan Halpern has earned supreme foodie status in my eyes) and trading stories about our journeys to becoming writers.

The takeaways for me were: Trust your instincts as a writer and write the story that most excites you.

I left the mini-lab feeling inspired not just about the workshopped scripts but also about the shift that’s taking place in how scripts are getting introduced to the industry. The Black List team cares so much and is so knowledgeable about today’s films, the history of film, and the state of filmmaking. I’m so grateful to Franklin Leonard and The Black List team for all they’re doing to help advance the careers of emerging writers.

Joe Rechtman

It’s easy to start feeling burnt out as a writer. The discipline and self-imposed isolation that it takes to pursue a career in screenwriting can quickly become overwhelming. But after attending the San Francisco Black List Mini-Lab, I feel rejuvenated. Though we were worked hard throughout the weekend, I came away encouraged, inspired, motivated and, most importantly, eager to write.

I had no idea what to expect from the Mini-Lab, but that sure didn’t stop me from being nervous as hell. I could barely sleep the whole week leading up to it. But as soon as I arrived and started shaking hands, it became apparent there was nothing to worry about, because everyone was there for the same reason: we all love writing. There was no competition, no networking, just a few aspiring writers being given a generous opportunity to learn and grow. So that’s what we did.

Here’s how it worked. On the first day, all of the writers met together with Scott, who helped prep us for our one-on-one sessions with the other mentors. This was a great way to get back in touch with our scripts, what we liked about them and what we thought needed work. I’m glad we had the chance to warm up and get our minds in gear for receiving notes.

Joe Rechtman

Joe Rechtman

The one-on-one sessions were nothing short of incredible. There’s nothing better than an hour and a half alone with an industry professional who has given your work a thorough read, and has plenty of thoughtful notes and advice. And you get three of them! The mentors were all amazing, each of them offering a different point of view and opening my eyes to things about my script I had never even considered. I felt especially lucky to be attending the San Francisco Mini-Lab, as the two screenwriting mentors brought with them the wisdom of Pixar. And of course, being able to pick Franklin’s brain about the development side of the business was invaluable.

Finally, the writers met back up with Scott to sift through the feedback we had all gotten, and share our own notes on each others’ work. It was a great way to organize the three mentor’s different opinions and figure out which direction we wanted to take our next drafts. Scott was an excellent moderator, dropping knowledge all over the place and helping us figure out what was at the core of our stories.

Overall it was an incredible experience that any writer would be lucky to have. Just being able to spend a weekend with so many like-minded writers was a treat in and of itself. Everything I learned was a fantastic bonus (and I didn’t even mention all the amazing food that the amazing people at the Black List fed us).

I’m extremely thankful to the mentors, my fellow fellows, and everyone at the Black List who helped put the lab together. I definitely won’t be forgetting that weekend anytime soon.

Speaking for myself, this is the 6th Black List screenwriters lab I’ve been involved with, and each has had its own unique feel. This group – Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Joe – exhibited the very best in writer qualities: talent, passion, curiosity, flexibility, honesty, commitment, openness, and most of all creativity. As with all of our labs, both Franklin and I emphasize the value of them continuing on as a writers group. I have no doubt this quartet will follow through on that.

One more Black List mini-lab in 2015 and that is in Los Angeles November 20-22. As you can see from the writers’ comments above, these events have been exceptional. I look forward to this next session, then what 2016 holds in store for other such events.

For more information about Black List workshops, go here.

Words of Wisdom from Franklin Leonard

September 25th, 2015 by

It’s been a delight getting to know and work with Franklin over the years, especially since we share the same professional North Star: Spotlighting great screenwriters, noteworthy scripts, and the craft of storytelling.

For the last 4 years, Franklin has graciously agreed to do a Skype Q&A with the university class I teach each fall. Wednesday was this year’s session. Needless to say, Franklin dropped truth bombs and wisdom galore during the hour-long call. Here are some highlights:

  • Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. Franklin literally quoted my mantra to the class, exhorting these young writers to immerse themselves in the craft.
  • Enrich your soul. The experiences one has living life can feed a writer’s creativity, therefore seek out new opportunities, study art, music, architecture, find inspiration wherever you can.
  • Treat people with respect. Don’t be a Hollywood asshole, rather by treating people well, that can help you professionally and enable you to be satisfied when you look at yourself in the mirror.

One takeaway from Franklin my students gravitated toward was this: Aim ridiculously high when choosing what stories you write. Does the world really need the 10,000th scripted variation of Taken? Instead whatever genre you write, zero in on a special story with special meaning to you, and write the hell out of it.

Franklin didn’t sugar coat his message. The film and TV business is incredibly competitive. It’s hard to get established and challenging to build and sustain a career. However the Hollywood development system which pretty much used to be a closed loop has changed. Any writer from anywhere in the world has access to literary representatives, producers, talent, and buyers through online outfits such as the Black List website.

You may not have had the opportunity my writing students did to spend an hour with Franklin Leonard, but you can enjoy an excellent video which just came out this week entitled “Franklin Leonard – It Starts With Story: Transforming Hollywood from the Ground Up”.

Hopefully my Writing for Screen and Stage students will be part of that transformation process by writing great original stories. Franklin’s words certainly inspired them – and me – to aim as high as we can with our creative ambitions.


Reflections of Black List Toronto Mini-Lab Writers

September 22nd, 2015 by

On the weekend of September 11-13, four writers gathered in Toronto for an exciting event: The second Black List Mini-Lab. The writers — Erin Cardiff, Stephen Davis, Mary Goldman, and Tim Visentin — had been selected on the basis of scripts they had uploaded to the Black List website and a personal statement about the story they were writing and their creative aspirations.

Over the weekend, they hung out with the Black List team — Franklin Leonard, Megan Halpern, and Kate Hagen — met one on one with Franklin, myself, and Toronto-based filmmakers Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart to discuss their scripts, then participated in two workshop sessions with me as group leader.

Here are some reflections about their individual and collective experience from the weekend they spent together. Their observations are both illuminating and inspiring.

Erin Cardiff

I have been trying to explain to folks what, exactly, I spent the first half of TIFF ’15 doing. I go off onto a wild tangent of mentors and sessions and workshops, and I can see eyes glaze over. But, mention The Black List, and watch the person in front of you snap to attention.

The Black List had already made a fundamental difference in my career trajectory as a screenwriter. They offer a service that’s unparalleled in our line of work. Constructive feedback from professional readers is difficult to find, especially for those new to the industry and without contacts, but The Black List takes the guesswork out of that process. It’s a one-stop shop that functions as the best barometer of a particular script.

I also feel compelled to mention that a Black List lab at TIFF is truly the best of all worlds. I cannot imagine doing this lab anywhere else. TIFF celebrated their 40th year as a festival in 2015, and they are truly the people’s festival. Plus, they offer a mind-boggling array of industry programming. This year, multiple panels concerned the promotion of diversity in film and it was beyond joyful to see that discussion brought to the forefront of industry discussions. And the movies! Every minute of TIFF that wasn’t spent in the lab was spent in a theatre absorbing the best of 2015 cinema from around the world. The badge to access everything TIFF had to offer was a very generous gift from TIFF and The Black List, and one I will never forget.

The mentoring sessions were unbelievably informative. It was amazing to literally be handed a full spectrum of feedback over the course of only three extremely in-depth sessions. Franklin represented the development side of things, Dane and Linsey gave us the perspective of successful Canadian filmmakers dedicated to Canadian film and Scott literally helped us Go Into The Story! Each mentor had a deep understanding of my script, bringing out elements and story possibilities I hadn’t considered, with thoughtful questions and insightful ideas on a myriad of directions my workshopped script could take. By the end of the lab, I had a dozen variations on my script and where it could be headed. Those variants didn’t even cross my mind, and without the insight of the mentors and participants in this lab, I cannot imagine arrive at any of these options on my own.

Speaking of my fellow lab participants, the three people I was lucky enough to participate in the lab with came to the table with such diverse backgrounds and opinions that it did nothing but enhance the joy of the experience. Connecting with a group of talented and smart writers in a similar place in their career was an unbelievable value all on its own. I’m excited to see what those lovely people produce, and I really want to start working on ways for us to collaborate as we move forward.

Everyone from The Black List who came out to meet us – including Dino, Kate and Megan – was lovely. Everything ran smoothly, and everything felt… serene is the only word that comes to mind. I came into the lab experience feeling nothing but anxiety – How did I get here? Did I deserve such a massive opportunity? Was I going to screw this up massively? I tried not to be a complete basket case, at least outwardly, but within minutes of meeting The Black List team, the anxiety melted away completely and the entire experience felt like the warm embrace of a family. This was not an accident. Those who work to facilitate the Black List really are a family, and they really did welcome us with open arms into their fold.

How did the lab help me as a writer? Honestly, I don’t have enough of a concept of that yet. It switched on my brain in a way I could not have ever fathomed. It’s asked me to reexamine how I attack a rewrite. It made me consider much more intensely how I consider which notes I incorporate and why. It very much felt like my first professional experience in a writer’s room-type environment, and in turn make me feel like I’m far more prepared to move into full-time collaborative filmmaking.

Basically, I started TIFF ’15 as a scared screenwriter and ended it as an emerging filmmaker. 100% of the credit for that shift, in both status and mindset, goes to The Black List, this lab, and their generosity toward me and my career.

Toronto BL4 SM

Stephen, Erin, Mary, Tim

Stephen Davis

I’m so grateful to Franklin and the Black List team for putting on such an inspiring event and for inviting me to be one its main beneficiaries. As soon as I saw the schedule for the weekend it was clear that the folks at the Black List really ‘get’ writers. This wasn’t going to be a quick pat on the back and a few general pointers; this was going to be a full-body immersion in story and craft. Engaging. Challenging. Hugely rewarding.

The Black List Mini Labs have three key strengths: the amount of time they dedicate to feedback, mentoring and workshopping; the quality and experience of the lab mentors; and the sheer range of perspectives your get on your screenplay in the course of one weekend. Between mentors and fellows, at least seven people read my script. What’s more, they read it with enough commitment to be able to talk in depth about individual scenes and even specific beats within those scenes. It’s rare that you find a group of people so willing to invest so much time in new writers that are unproven and still developing.

The great thing about having so many smart people engage with your script is that it increases the chances of some kind of consensus emerging. For example, if a note about a certain character or certain scene recurs consistently, you immediately know that’s something you’ll want to address in the next draft. This is why it’s so valuable that the mentor sessions are one-on-one. It feels like each mentor is speaking independently, giving you their personal response and then it’s up to you to go away and put all those points of view together into some kind of actionable rewrite plan. Except the great thing is, the folks at the Black List stick around to help! The final session with Scott is all about processing the feedback you’ve received. Ordering it. Structuring it. Decoding it.

The other thing I want to acknowledge is how well the mentors listened. The operating principle for the whole event seemed to be ‘Who is this writer?’ and ‘What are they trying to achieve with this story/screenplay?’ As a result, feedback was always delivered in the context of the writer’s goals. This is such a smart approach and it’s why, even when I was being challenged with tough questions, I always felt supported. After all, would you really want to take directions from someone who doesn’t first ask you where you’re trying to get to? But once the mentors are equipped with this information they’re expert guides able to suggest multiple different routes to your intended destination.

A quick word about Scott. I’ve long-appreciated the work he does on GoIntoTheStory, especially his 1, 2, 7, 14 technique and his Definitive Spec Script Deals List. And that passion that fuels the blog is so totally evident when you meet him in person. Being around Scott reminds you that telling stories is one of the most wondrous and life-enhancing things human beings do. It’s an infectious enthusiasm that set the perfect tone for our in-depth workshop sessions. And he didn’t just focus on our current scripts but the next idea, the next story, the next step on your journey towards an actual writing career. Had his passport mysteriously disappeared on the final evening, thereby prolonging his stay in Canada for a few more days years, I can think of four writers who would have been very, very happy.

As screenwriting analogies go, I’m partial to the image of the old-school miner who, day after day, descends underground, alone, in search of something precious that he believes is there but yet may never be found. One day that miner receives a visit from a group of people who bring lamps and set them up around him. They sift through his little pile of rocks, the stuff he’s not sure has any value up above ground, and with their expert eyes they point to these tiny glistening fragments and they say ‘Look here, you’ve found something.’ And they pick up his tools and they show him how to sharpen them so they cut better. And then they step back and tell him to keep digging. Because ultimately he has to do the work, he has to swing that pick. Only now, he can see where he’s going. And that thing he’s searching for, it doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

To everyone at the Black List: thanks for visiting. And thanks for the lamps.

Toronto BL2 SM

Stephen, Dane, Tim

Mary Goldman

Two days spent with supportive, insightful and knowledgeable mentors and fellow writers—what could be more gratifying?

After a lovely dinner hosted by The Black List at a local Toronto restaurant where I met my fellow writers, I awoke the next morning excited, but also somewhat apprehensive—is my writing up to snuff? Is my screenplay really crap, and I got this opportunity by some weird stroke of luck? Or will nerves get the better of me, leaving me an inarticulate mess?

All this anxiety was for naught, as right away the Black List team put us all at ease. After a minor mix-up trying to locate our conference room, Scott Myers gave us the space to chat a little, breaking the ice before opening with an initial peer feedback session. My fellow writers all offered valuable, honest insights in a constructive manner. Next, one-on-one time with the smart, witty and charming Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart  who gave me practical notes from a working writer’s perspective. Then time with Scott, who got me to think about my characters and conflicts on a much deeper level. The next morning I got Franklin Leonard to myself. He challenged me to revisit my voiceover, giving me suggestions on how to elevate its power in my story, all the while assuring me I had the skills to do it.

Finally, Scott had us all back for our final full peer feedback session, masterfully synthesizing all the critiques/ideas we’d received from our peers and mentors.

The Black List team put together an agenda that makes so much sense: peer feedback, one-on-one mentorship from four different mentors (each from a slightly different perspective), wrapped up with an impressive synthesis of ideas by Scott Myers. I’ve gratefully come away with a clear sense of direction for my next rewrite and feel confident that, thanks to this inspiring group, I will be elevating my screenplay to the next level.

Toronto BL3 SM

Erin, Stephen, Scott, Tim, Mary

Timothy Visentin

I must have read the email over about five times before I was sure I had in fact been chosen as the Martin Katz Fellow and would be attending the Black List Lab. It was such an amazing opportunity and fantastic experience that I think some of it is still just sinking in.

From my craft to my career focus, there’s not a single part of me as a screenwriter that isn’t far stronger for having gone through the Black List lab.

The opportunity to learn from such passionate and knowledgeable professionals is something I am extremely grateful for. The Black List crew is such a great group of people who truly do care about great stories, and helping those stories (and writers) be heard. The Black List (Franklin in particular) have been instrumental in my career thus far and I can’t thank them enough. There’s a reason the Black List is held in such high regard, and it’s because of the amazing people behind the scenes.

Whether it be over drinks or in the middle of intense notes sessions, I’ve never felt more inspired to hammer out pages. I left every session buzzing with ideas and found myself racing off to the TIFF industry lounge to frantically scribble down notes like a madman. I wanted to make sure that I absorbed it all and made the most of each session. Didn’t want to let any of it slip away.

Each one of the mentors brought with them their own takes on the same goal — improving my screenplay. Some with page by page notes, others with deep discussions about motivations and theme. They have all pushed me to be the best writer I can be and to always challenge myself to make sure I hold every page to that standard.

I can’t speak highly enough about Scott’s methods. The sessions with him were intense and riveting. Both one-on-one and in the workshops. I could easily discuss story and screenwriting with that man all day. In just a few hours over the course of two days, he’s helped me advanced exponentially as a screenwriter.

I saw just how many emails were left unread over the three days so that he could give his full attention to us and our screenplays. The mind bogglingly high notification count on his phone haunts me to this day. It’s a result of the level of thought and care that went into each of the sessions he held with us.

(…seriously though, it’s a number so big the iPhone can’t even display it properly…)

Scott started off the Sunday by digging into notes we’d received from Franklin, Dane, Linsey, and himself.  He wanted to make sure we got the most out of every note by weighing each suggestion against the story we truly wanted to tell. In the end you need to be sure of what your trying to convey, and commit to it fully.

A running theme of the day was forcing yourself to remember got you excited about the idea in the first place. About each character. Each scene. Screenwriting is like walking blindly into a storm, so you occasionally need to stop and remind yourself where you’re suppose to be going and why you ever left the comfort of your bed in the first place.

We then dove head first into peer discussions. Scott pushed us to evaluate every angle and possibly with generous amounts of time devoted to each one of our screenplays. Looking to make sure that moment of conflict was utilized to it’s fullest. He again reminded us to listen carefully to each note. To never ignore any suggestions. There is value in any idea that helps you get where your going. You never know what idea will spark the fire that leads the way.

This lab has helped me approach the breaking and development of my stories in far more polished and professional manor. Which has in turn allowed me to be that much more confident and concise in the decisions I make on the page and the comfort in which I put my work out there.

It’s also taught me that I should probably be writing pages right now…

Speaking for myself, this is the 4th Black List screenwriters lab I’ve been involved with, and each has had its own unique feel. This group – Erin, Mary, Stephen, and Tim – exhibited the very best in writer qualities: talent, passion, curiosity, flexibility, honesty, commitment, openness, and most of all creativity. As with all of our labs, both Franklin and I emphasize the value of them continuing on as a writers group. I have no doubt this quartet will follow through on that.

And Toronto? What a wonderful city! So inspiring to see thousands of movie fans filling the streets from 9AM to midnight, lining up to see dozens of featured films. Between the one-on-one sessions, the workshops, and access to all those screenings, I can understand the glowing reviews each of the Toronto mini-lab writers offered above.

In other words, the weekend kicked ass!

There are three upcoming Black List screenwriter labs in 2015:

October 3-4, 2015 at Columbia College in Chicago, IL

October 17-18, 2015 in San Francisco, CA

November 21-22,  2015 in Los Angeles, CA

Each represents an opportunity for you to work on your original script with me and other professional writers as your mentors in an intensive weekend, as well as become part of the Black List family. For more information, go here.

Farewell Friday: @MysteryExec

August 21st, 2015 by

By now, most of you have probably heard the news: @MysteryExec is no more. Arguably the dean of the whole Mystery Hollywood thing, I enjoyed his Twitter feed since way back in 2011. Almost two years ago to the day, I posted this: @MysteryExec calls out screenwriters:

I have no idea who @MysteryExec is. All I know is it’s been a blast tracking his lifestyle via his tweets which for long stretches of time have involved providing behind the scenes snark about his work environment and anything to do with the Valley, then heading out for play time which typically translates into consuming copious amounts of Chivas 18 while chasing female companionship in the watering holes of Westwood.

But in the last few months, something happened to @MysteryExec. Yes, he still pursues carnal knowledge bathed in scotch, but in a moment of what I can only imagine was akin to achieving “total consciousness” a la Carl from Caddyshack, @MysteryExec realized something: The Hollywood filmmaking community can do better.

In fact, @MysteryExec coined a hashtag to that effect: #BeTheChange.


For all we know, @MysteryExec may be some community college dropout working as a stock boy at a pissant Radio Shack in Pacoima, but when he goes into #BeTheChange mode, it doesn’t matter: He is a prophet crying in the wilderness, proclaiming the truth from high atop Mount Twitter.

Writers, heed @MysteryExec’s call!

Dig deeply into your characters.
Make them come alive and lift off the page.
Find what is unique about them that takes them beyond cliché .
Zero in on something about your characters that generates resonance for a reader.
Don’t be afraid to break with formula whether it’s plot, genre, gender, race or a character’s country of origin.
If a character surprises you with something they say or do, chances are they will surprise a Hollywood reader, too.

As it turns out, @MysteryExec is not a studio executive. He’s also likely not a stock boy at a Radio Shack, but apparently a screenwriter along with his partner in virtual ‘crime’ @MysteryVP, also a screenwriter.

So does this implosive development undercut the message ME has been promoting via social media the last 2 years? Some reactions from folks who work in the business:

And this from Franklin Leonard who I think says it best:

Let me close by saying this: Hey, @MysteryExec and @MysteryVP! If you can generate the heat you did with your @MagicalMysteryTrip, I would imagine you can probably write the hell out of a script. So why not emerge from your @MysteryCocoon and join your fellow screenwriters in the bright haze of smoggy Hollywood and beyond? We welcome you both with open virtual arms, a bottle of Chivas, and whatever meds ex-@MysteryVP happens to fantasizing about at the moment.

Son, it ain’t time to be knockin’ on heaven’s door. It’s time to be rockin’ in the free world!

@MysteryExec is dead! Long live @MysteryExec!

Reddit AMA: Franklin Leonard

August 17th, 2015 by

It was something like 5 years ago when Franklin Leonard first reached out to me about the blog. Via numerous emails and phone calls, several things became clear. First, Franklin is smart as hell. Second, he loves movies, but perhaps even more, he has a passion for all things screenwriting and especially screenwriters. Even in those early conversations, I could tell Franklin and the Black List had the potential to build on what was fast becoming the most important brand associated with screenwriting in Hollywood into a truly transformational and cutting edge movement.

Which is precisely what Franklin and crew has done… and one big reason why I am proud to be partnered with them as the official screenwriting blog of the Black List.

Recently Franklin did an AMA on Reddit. It’s amazing that as busy as he is, Franklin consistently makes himself available to dialogue with aspiring screenwriters. This Reddit exchange is particularly informative, so here are a few excerpts from that conversation:

How many 1) signings to agents and managers and 2) sales do you think have come as a direct result of connections made by submitting to

This is information that contests love to disseminate, and I think a comparison to’s numbers would be helpful to a lot of writers.

Franklin: Honestly we’ve lost track of both 1 and 2 because it’s become so much the norm in the industry that folks no longer bother to inform us when it happens.

Suffice it to say that our numbers are strong enough that I don’t really worry about comparisons to the contests. Not sure any contests, Nicholl included, have four produced scripts to their credit in the last 2.5 years.

I’m confused a little now. Isn’t Nightingale (2014) the first script to be produced from the website?

Franklin: It is. And since then ZINZANA, EDDIE THE EAGLE, and SHOVEL BUDDIES have been produced as well.

Did the director of ZINZANA,Majid Al Ansari, submit to the website as well?

Franklin: No. The screenwriters, Ruckus and Lane Skye, did. Their script RATTLE THE CAGE was found there by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, who optioned the script, translated into Arabic and made the film. You can read more about it here:


Anyone? tell me difference between blklst & Black List

Franklin: The annual Black List and the Black List website are not the same thing.

The former is a survey of every executive at a major film financier or producer about their favorite unproduced scripts of the previous year.

The latter is a two sided marketplace wherein writers can make their scripts available to thousands of working industry professionals ranging from agency assistants all the way up to studio presidents, producers, and working actors and directors.

There have been ten scripts to date that have been discovered on the Black List website and ended up on the annual list, including last year’s #1 script, Kristina Lauren Anderson’s CATHERINE THE GREAT.

Hi Franklin. I’m a young college graduate that’s been working as a production assistant in NYC for the last year. I’m interested in writing, but the more I work the more impossible it seems to make a living off of writing professionally. That being said a site like blacklist seems like a great opportunity to explore for someone like me, but I want to ask you personally what kind of obstacles had to be overcome to gain attention in the industry before you made the site? What did you see that inspired you to make submitting and reading scripts easier for everyone and do you still see some of those issues in the industry today?

Bonus question: Are there any scripts you enjoy coming back to and reading again?

Franklin: Short answer:

Prior to the existence of the Black List there were essentially three ways to get your script to Hollywood:

  1. Know someone in the business and give them your script.
  2. Submit to the Nicholl, hope you were in the top 30 and that you received some incoming phone calls.
  3. Move to Los Angeles and network yourself to death until you could do #1.

That reality was a problem for me. The Nicholl is a once a year proposition, and subjectivity means that a script that could attract notice from one reader may get bounced in the first round. And #1 and #3 are limited, for the most part, to folks from very specific backgrounds that have exactly zero to do with whether or not they’re a great writer or not.

I wanted to create a venue whereby if a writer had the goods – no matter where they lived or what their circumstance was – they could have the opportunity to have a career as a screenwriter. I think we’ve done that.

Can’t think of a script that I read frequently for pleasure. There are so many scripts, books, etc. that I need/want to read, for myriad reasons, it’s not really an option even if there was one.


If you feel you have the tools as a screenwriter do you recommend going to school or jumping straight into the industry? Are films set in war less likely to be produced due to the high production cost?

Franklin: Different strokes for different folks, and I’m sure folks who have screenwriting degrees and found success in the film industry can speak to that degree’s value far better than I can.

That said, my recommendation is to study something that you’re deeply interested in OTHER THAN screenwriting if you do make the decision to pursue a post secondary education. If your response to this is “but movies are all that I care about,” then okay, get an English degree and read the canon. Get a degree in Folklore and Mythology and learn everything you possibly can about the stories that have undergirded storytelling for millenia.

There are two reasons for my recommendation against pursuing a screenwriting degree:

  1. The most important elements of being a good screenwriter are insight into the human experience and being a good storyteller.
  2. These are things you can pick up in many other degree programs, some of which may be even more valuable in that regard than a screenwriting program.
  3. Having another degree will make it easier to get a job after college before you break as a screenwriter.
  4. There are myriad valuable free resources online that can help you learn the craft. Among them (and one I highly recommend) is Go Into the Story (

It’s a great AMA, not only for the information Franklin conveys, but also you really get a sense of how passionate he is about what we do as screenwriters.

Which leads me to wonder: Who knows where and what the Black List might become in 5 years time and beyond… and how that could change things for screenwriters in Hollywood…

To read the entire Reddit AMA, go here.

Interview (Audio): Robert Towne’s conversation with Franklin Leonard

July 15th, 2015 by

This is gold: Robert Towne, one of the lions of contemporary American screenwriting whose credits include The Last Details, The Parallax View, Chinatown, Shampoo, and Mission: Impossible, along with dozens of uncredited projects on which he served as a script doctor, interviewed by the Black List’s Franklin Leonard.

For the Black List Table Reads series, go here.

Report from NYC Black List screenwriter panel

May 6th, 2015 by

Last week, the Black List hit New York for a series of events one of which was a screenwriter panel. From Indiewire:

The panelists—Chris Sparling (Cannes 2015 entry “Sea of Trees,” directed by Gus Van Sant), Shari Springer Berman (“American Splendor,” “The Nanny Diaries,” “Ten Thousand Saints”), Michael Zam (“Best Actress”) and Lara Shapiro (“The Americans”)—joined moderator Franklin Leonard, creator of The Black List, to discuss everything from finding the right agent to when it’s time to quit your day job.

Among the issues they discussed, the panelists tackled 5 questions I think would be of interest to most GITS readers.

1. Do I have to live in L.A. to have a career as a working writer?

2. How do I find the right agent?

3. I just got an agent. What can I expect?

4. When can I quit my day job?

5. How long does it take to see your first success?

Some highlights excerpted from the article:

When interviewing with agents, the panelists stressed the importance of gauging their interest in your work. “See if agents ask you the right questions,” said Zam. “Hopefully they’ll ask you about your dream job. And you should ask them what they see for you in the future. There has to be an agreement of vision.” Shapiro agreed: “I haven’t always had people representing me that I felt understood my work or cared about what I wanted to be doing. That should be your number one priority.” Furthermore, Berman emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with an agent. “Make sure you get someone you like and trust, because they will be a big part of your life,” she said.


The overwhelming consensus was that persistence begets success. “I wrote six or seven scripts before I saw success,” said Sparling. “It was a glacial path. At least 10 years, if not more.” In the interim, he kept himself motivated by continuing to write despite repeated failure. “I don’t buy into writer’s block,” he said. “Idea block, sure. But once you’ve outlined and you’re ready to go and you’re writing, there’s no such thing. That’s bullshit. It just comes down to the fear of writing poorly.”

Zam, too, said that fear was inhibitive. “It is the fear of being terrible that stops you,” he said. “Sometimes you have to let yourself write shit so you get to the good stuff. Sit down and do it regardless. Deadlines are the greatest breaker of writer’s block.” After Shapiro had a short at Sundance, she was recruited for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. “I wouldn’t have written anything if it weren’t for the Lab,” she said. “Deadlines are everything.”

The panelists agreed that continuing to write is the best antidote to moments of doubt or inertia in a writing career. “I had a lot of near-successes and I was on the periphery for a long time,” said Zam. “I went through a period where I got an agent and things were happening, and then suddenly it was dead. I went into a complete depression for several years and stopped writing. Getting a script out was the thing that broke it for me personally and professionally.”

By all accounts, a terrific and informative Black List session. Later today, I’ll provide a first-hand report about another Black List event that took place this weekend: The inaugural NYC screenwriting mini-lab.

For the rest of the Indiewire article, go here.

Q&A: Franklin Leonard on Black List Table Reads Podcast

April 7th, 2015 by

Last week, this exciting announcement:

Midroll Media, the leading digital media company providing a 360-degree suite of podcast production, distribution, and monetization services to artists, entertainers, and thought leaders, announces its spring rollout of four brand new shows, Spontaneantion with Paul F. Tompkins, CARDBOARD! with Rich Sommer, The Black List Table Reads, and Womp It Up! debuting throughout the month of April to be added to its slate of programming. The new shows underscore Midroll’s ongoing strategy of working with the best talent to develop original, entertaining, and innovative podcast programming, while expanding the breadth of its podcast audience.

About The Black List Table Reads:

The Black List Table Reads takes the best and most exciting screenplays Hollywood hasn’t yet made, and turns them into movies for your ears. Black List founder Franklin Leonard presents a new script every month, read by a rotating cast of talented actors, along with interviews with members of the Hollywood screenwriting community and beyond. The first featured script read for episodes 1-4 is Balls Out, written by Malcolm Spellman (producer of Empire) and Tim Talbott (winner of the 2014 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award). Follow the coveted stories as they unfold on The Black List Table Reads Thursdays on

Several readers emailed me, curious to know more, so I sent some questions to Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard. Here they are with his responses:

Scott: First off, congratulations. Yet another innovative way to spotlight talented writers and great scripts. Let’s start with this: You have the Black List Live! series which thus far has produced four successful live shows in Los Angeles. How does the Black List Table Reads initiative differ from Black List Live?

Franklin: The Black List Live staged script readings will be, at least for the time being, exclusively scripts from the annual Black List performed by actors for that audience on that night. They’re never recorded. They’re not livestreamed. It’s just for those who can make it to the theater to see it.

The Table Reads scripts will come from a variety of sources. Some will be from the annual Black List, as our first script is, but most will be selected from the website, where there are a number of strong scripts that we think will make excellent audio entertainment.

Most importantly, they’re available for everyone, anywhere, any time.

Scott: How did the idea for Black List Table Reads evolve and how did Midroll Media become involved as distributor? Why a podcast?

Franklin: These questions can probably best be answered together. I’ve become a big podcast listener since the Black List became my full time job, probably because I had so much more time in LA traffic between meetings. One of the podcasts I’ve become a particular fan of – at the Black List’s own Kate Hagen’s suggestion – is How Did This Get Made?, Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas’s podcast on the Earwolf network that discusses the finer points of, let’s just say, less than fine cinematic works.

Long story short, we heard that Paul was interested in participating in our live staged script readings, and that begat a meeting that coincided with his launching Wolfpop as part of Midroll’s podcast world.

Since we started the staged readings last year, I was struck by the number of tweets and emails we received asking if the readings would be recorded or livestreamed for folks outside of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something we could do for a number of reasons, but it did increase our desire to find a way to do something similar for audiences around the world.

Fortunately, when I sat down with Paul and Midroll CEO Adam Sachs, they were just as excited by the idea as we were.

Scott: The script for the first podcast, which debuts April 16, is Balls Out, written by Malcolm Spellman (producer of Empire) and Tim Talbott (winner of the 2014 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award). The formal announcement listed it as Episodes 1-4. Will each script reading be serialized?

Franklin: They will. We’ll record each reading in one session, but they’ll be broadcast in four episodes, one episode each week, which each four-episode cycle beginning with an interview with the screenwriter(s).

Scott: How long will each podcast be?

Franklin: Still putting the finishing touches on the first episode, but I’d guess between 30 and 45 minutes.

Scott: How will you determine which scripts to feature for the podcast and will scripts posted on the Black List website be eligible for consideration?

Franklin: Scripts from the Black List website will definitely be eligible, and right now, it looks like scripts two through four will all be scripts we identified via the site. By and large, we’ll be looking at scripts that have a bit of legendary status in the industry and scripts whose performance on the website indicates that they’re exceptionally well done and likely to fit well with the audio format, likely scripts with particularly strong dialogue and plenty of it.

Scott: The announcement mentions “interviews with members of the Hollywood screenwriting community and beyond”. Could you tell us more about what you’re envisioning here?

Franklin: In the short term, that means interviews with the writers of each script that we choose. What the future holds, who knows?

Scott: Where will people be able to download and listen to the Black List Table Reads podcast?

Franklin: Best place for that information is the podcast’s page on the Wolfpop website:

Scott: Final question: Imagine you are an aspiring screenwriter living thousands of miles away from Los Angeles. What benefits can that writer derive from listening to the Black List Table Reads podcast?

Franklin: So many things, but three spring to mind as most important:

1. Education. It’s a rare thing, especially living thousands of miles away, to be able to read a screenplay and then hear it performed. Those are two very different things, and there’s a ton to be learned as a writer about what works and what doesn’t on the page in hearing a script make that transition. In every case where we reasonably can, we’ll be providing the scripts for download so that our audience can follow along.

2. A standard of excellence. All of the scripts that we’ll select for the podcast will be those that have already attracted or will likely attract the interest of industry professionals. It’s one thing to watch a movie and say “okay, that’s what I’m working toward.” It’s quite another to read a script (or in this case, hear it performed for “radio”) and do the same thing.

3. Entertainment. Like our live staged readings, we have every expectation that this podcast is going to be a hell of a good time to listen to. So even if you’re not an aspiring working screenwriter (but maybe especially so if you are one), it’s a great way to spend thirty to forty five minutes every week being transported by a great, well-written story.

I love the idea of being able to read the script while listening to the staged reading. But beyond that, this is a great way for people from anywhere in the world to gain exposure to some of the best of the best screenwriting in Hollywood today. Hugely valuable in terms of getting a sense of what works relative to tone, style, voice, and so on.

You may sign up for the podcast, like I’ve done, here.

Thanks, Franklin, for your time, and your continuing efforts to promote talented screenwriters and great screenplays.

Interview [Written]: Franklin Leonard

October 8th, 2014 by

I have read, seen or heard many interviews with Franklin Leonard, both before I had met him, then throughout the several years I have known him as part of the Black List team. And I must say, this most recent interview in “Origins,” a new journal featuring writers and creatives exploring the “art of narrative,” is perhaps the best one.

In it, Franklin talks about his youth, education and circuitous path into Hollywood, the founding of the Black List, reflections on the state of the movie business today, and much more.

To read it, click on the image below. The interview with Franklin begins on P. 76, but the entire issue is worth checking out.

Let me add this: The interview was conducted by Lisa Mecham, a writer and storyteller who I first got to know when she participated in the very first Quest Writing Workshop in Santa Monica in March, 2013. An emerging talent!

You may go to the “Origins” website here.

Interview [Video]: Franklin Leonard

July 17th, 2014 by

The Black List, how it was founded, and how it continues to develop are discussed with founder and CEO Franklin Leonard who explains the difference between studios and production companies along with the idea of mixing creativity with business. Leonard also talks about working with Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, and at Universal and making his way up the ladder to build an infrastructure that will allow for great projects to get made, in this episode of The Insiders hosted by Sebastian Twardosz.

Franklin Leonard is the founder of the Black List, the yearly publication highlighting Hollywood’s most popular unproduced screenplays and the startup birthed to continue its mission. Over 225 Black List scripts have been produced as feature films earning more than 175 Academy Award nominations including three of the last six Best Pictures and seven of the last fourteen screenwriting Oscars. Franklin has worked in development at Universal Pictures and the production companies of Will Smith, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, Leonardo DiCaprio, and John Goldwyn. Since 2010, he has been named one of Hollywood Reporter’s 35 Under 35, Black Enterprise magazine’s “40 Emerging Leaders for Our Future,” AOL Black Voices “30 Black Hollywood Game Changers,” the Wrap’s “12 Innovators Who Are Changing Hollywood,” and Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”

00:01 Welcome to The Insiders.
00:10 Introducing Franklin Leonard.
00:30 Harvard, social studies, math, politics, and working as a business analyst.
06:00 Transitioning into Hollywood and taking a pay cut to work in the film industry.
12:00 Paramount, becoming a creative executive, finding and developing scripts, and working for Leonardo DiCaprio.
15:30 Developing a criteria for and creating the Black List.
22:10 Mirage Enterprises, and working with Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
24:50 Universal, working at a studio vs. a production company, and risk assessment.
28:50 Metrics of the Black List scripts, and working for Will Smith at Overbrook Entertainment.
35:10 The success of scripts that have been on the annual list and the role of the Black List.
37:30 Creating an efficient database for screenplays.
42:30 Success stories, what’s next for the Black List
48:50 Finding success as a writer through ambition, and what makes a good script?
55:00 Thanks and goodbye.