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.

Your questions for Franklin Leonard

July 7th, 2014 by

I’ve met a lot of talented people in my time working in the movie and TV business, but certainly I’ve found Franklin Leonard to be one of Hollywood’s true bright lights. Occasionally I’ll see if he’s up for some questions from GITS readers and this appears to be a good time. So if you have any questions for Franklin, now’s your chance.

You may want to ask about the Black List. A lot going on there. Check out this list of initiatives launched in the last year:

Cassian Elwes / Sundance Film Festival – Black List

Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship – Black List

Martin Katz/Toronto International Film Festival – Black List

TBS / TNT – Black List

Walt Disney Studios – Black List

Warner Bros. – Black List

WIGS – Black List

If you’d like more information on any of those or what Franklin’s vision is for the Black List, this is your opportunity to check in with the man himself.

Do you have questions about the state of the movie and TV business? Franklin travels in some very interesting circles re scripted entertainment, so he has a unique insight on current and future trends.

Advice for aspiring writers. His thoughts on resources available online for writers. Heck, you can even ask him questions about the World Cup as he is a huge ‘footy’ fan.

Head to comments, post your questions, and I’ll forward them to Franklin for his responses.

You may follow Franklin via twitter:



Franklin Leonard talks Black List, screenwriting on The Treatment [Audio]

April 22nd, 2014 by

Franklin Leonard appeared with Elvis Mitchell on the KCRW show The Treatment. Scheduled for airing on Wednesday, April 23, you can get a jump on it and listen to their conversation here. A description of the episode:

In 2005, Franklin Leonard was working for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, looking for great stories that went beyond the Hollywood franchises and sequels that seemed to be ever-present. So he sent a survey to a few film executives with one simple question: What was the best script you read this year that still hasn’t been made into a feature film? Since then, The Black List has catalyzed the writer/producer partnerships that have resulted in over 225 films, including Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, The King’s Speech, Argo and The Social Network. Films that appeared on The Black List have earned over $19 billion worldwide, and won 35 Academy Awards. Founder Franklin Leonard joins Elvis to talk about the inherent activism in what he’s doing, and how he chose the name “The Black List” in order to subvert the paradigm he heard growing up, that Black somehow equaled Bad.

The Treatment website here.

Q&A: Franklin Leonard

June 28th, 2013 by

Recently Franklin was in Toronto to participate in the TIFF STUDIO program and gave an interview with Toro magazine. A few excerpts:

Is the Black List more useful for getting film projects off the ground, or helping to fund / promote those that are already in pre-production?

Both of the above, to an unknowable extent – I say unknowable because I don’t want to overstate the influence the Black List has.

My perception of how movies get green-lit is almost entirely clouded by Robert Altman’s The Player, which might be the best movie about making movies told from the studios’ perspective. But is it accurate – do movies really go into production on the whims of businessmen uninterested in creativity or originality?

The people who run studios are in a very precarious position. Their economic reality is that the cost of making movies on their level is skyrocketing. Revenue has recently dropped significantly because of the fall of the DVD marketplace. So if you have a family, kids in private school, and a mortgage, and some guy comes to you and says “I have a screenplay about a guy who buys a sex doll and treats it like a real girl. Give me $25 million.” So they can (approve) that, or the next Superman movie. Which would allow them to keep their job? It’s an economically rational decision. The Black List provides a certain amount of cover for movies that do have great scripts, have a reasonable chance of finding critical and financial success, but may not have the most obvious commercial appeal. In an industry with a cover-your-ass mentality, the (executive) can say, if the movie (wasn’t a success) “I hired the best director I could, with the Black List support it was reasonable to think this could have been a good idea.”

We’ve explored this dynamic before, how difficult a position studio executives are in, trying to make decisions about creative projects (movies) when everything gets reduced to financial bottom lines. It’s one big reason why they adopt a ‘similar but different’ approach to most movies they green light.

For the rest of the interview with Franklin, go here.

UPDATE: Franklin also made TheWrap’s inaugural Innovator’s List: 12 Who Are Changing Hollywood which was just released today. You can see that list here.

“What’s the secret behind Oscar-winning screenplays? The Black List”

March 1st, 2013 by

Nice feature on the Black List featuring some choice quotes from Franklin:

Franklin Leonard is the man behind The Black List, and he said crowdsourcing is the answer.

On one side of the marketplace, screenwriters submit their work which is evaluated by a team of readers. If it is good, they post the scripts on the site. On the other side, over 1,000 film industry professionals are registered members of the community. They have access to the curated selection of screenplays and vote to create a ranking system that surfaces the best content.

“Over 30,000 pieces of material are registered at the Writers Guild of America every year,” Leonard said in an interview at VentureBeat’s office. “Of that number, only 200 are released. How do you make sure those 200 are the best? The current filtering mechanisms are inefficient. By taking a systematic, crowdsourced approach to identifying quality, regardless of executive considerations or making money, and aggregating that, the scripts end up being successful.”


“We are expanding beyond the highly insular, incredibly opaque universe that is Hollywood,” Leonard said. “In a world where if you don’t have the right network or connections, you don’t have the opportunity to tell your story in film, we are saying that if you are good, the only distance between you and becoming a full-time Hollywood screenwriter is your talent. The things The Black List is highlighting are things will see in movie theaters in two, five, 10 years down the road and at the Oscars.”

For the rest of the article, go here.

The Black List is hiring

February 21st, 2013 by

Here is a great opportunity for a talented, motivated person:

The Black List is hiring a Los Angeles based non-titular employee who will work with founders Franklin Leonard and Dino Sijamic to continue to build the Black List.

Job will include quasi-assistant work (schedule, travel, research, proofreading, etc.), but the scope and importance of the work will expand over time with continued dedication and effort.

Good candidates will possess exceptional writing, editing, and interpersonal skills, an unusual knowledge of film and television (contemporary and historical, studio and independent) and an extraordinary comfort with technology.

In all likelihood, they’ll also be the type who has interest in the following subjects (and hopefully aptitude for the skills those conversations cover): graphic design,, data visualization, correlation vs. causation, Metacritic vs. RottenTomatoes, recommendation algorithms, social media marketing, and Zappos customer service.

Compensation is competitive with major agency and management company assistant compensation.  Agency experience is not required.

To apply, email a resume and cover letter, in PDF form, to with the subject header: “Black List – Job Applicant”

Cover letters should include at least two of the following:

  • A one paragraph defense of any film with a Metacritic or RottenTomatoes score < 25.
  • A one paragraph celebration of your favorite movie poster of all time (include image of the poster in your cover letter, wherever you’d like)
  • An answer to “Metacritic or RottenTomatoes? Why?”
  • A list (with links) your three favorite uses of data visualization online.

I can speak from personal experience, Franklin is a top drawer individual and a true visionary. If you are qualified, hit it. And good luck!