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!

How to Improve Hollywood: 9 Experts Weigh In on the Future of Film

January 4th, 2013 by

TheWrap with this intriguing article:

At the dawn of 2013, Hollywood is edging toward cautious optimism. The box office is set to shatter domestic records and the home-entertainment sector is poised to grow after five years of losses.

A year ago, TheWrap asked six experts the daunting question: How do we fix Hollywood? This year, we reached out to a new set of thought leaders across the spectrum of the movie business to ask:

How do we make sense of the changing landscape? And what trends are emerging as a new year dawns?

From “Paranormal Activity” producer Jason Blum to Black List founder Franklin Leonard to Film Nation CEO Glen Basner, here’s what they had to say:

Some excerpts:

CEO, Cinedigm

We’re entering a period of tremendous upside for the independent film business. Finally things are coming together in terms of digital technology.

The cost of making a movie that’s worthy of theatrical release is now a hell of a lot less than it was a few years ago, and the profusion of digital services like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon is reaching a critical mass.

They’re in an arms race for content, and that’s creating a perfect storm for independent film.

Founder and CEO, Capstone Global Marketing & Research Group

Don’t forget about the old people.

When we started the National Research Group 35 years ago, moviegoing was a young person’s domain. Older people went to the movies, but we stopped sampling after the age of 49. The target audience ranged from teenagers to the late 40s. Now it goes up to the mid-60s.

It first became clear moviegoing was getting older in the late ’90s, when older people didn’t stop going to the movies like the generations before them. It reflects that Baby Boomer population, which has always been a huge population — and still goes to the movies.

Founder, the Black List

I spend a lot of time thinking about data and how data can be used to improve the film business. One way that seems both obvious and interesting is making movies that already have an audience.

Hollywood typically assumes that means, “Oh there’s a built-in audience for this board game.” That’s wrong. It means determining ways to identify audiences for specific subjects or ideas via the internet, social media and surveys.

If you have a piece of material and you want to get butts in the seats, how do you identify and communicate with that audience and convince them to leave their house, pay to go to a movie and sit there and watch it?

We’re talking about something besides billboards and trailers on television. Whether it be with Twitter, Facebook or people with Netflix viewing logs, there are more direct ways to communicate with those people and remind them, “Hey there’s this thing coming out tonight you might be interested in seeing.”

The Obama campaign did a remarkable job of identifying potential voters and converting them into actual voters. If the industry looked at all potential viewers like that, it could bump up not only domestic box office but also revenue streams further down the line.

Okay, now put on your ‘expert’ cap: What do you see as the future of film?

For more of TheWrap article, go here.

The What, How, and Why of the Black List: The Long Answer by Franklin Leonard

October 16th, 2012 by

Yesterday the Black List launched a new service for enabling aspiring screenwriters to get their scripts in front of 1000+ industry insiders. It generated considerable press and lots of questions in the online screenwriting community. Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard put together a comprehensive response which I am posting here in full. (more…)

Q&A: Franklin Leonard

September 7th, 2012 by

One year ago, Go Into The Story became the official Screenwriting Blog of the Black List. As part of the celebration this week, Franklin Leonard kindly offered to answer some questions, many provided by GITS readers. Today more questions:

What are the most important things that you find draw you into a script? Is it the idea? The writing? Commercial viability? Or is it a combination of all of the above.

This largely depends on why I’m reading the script.  If it’s a sample (a script I’m reading to familiarize myself with a new author or a new direction in an author’s work), the most important thing is the writing.  If I’m considering it as something for my employer to produce, then I’m reading to find out whether this screenplay represents a blueprint for a movie consistent with my employer’s brand that can be made and marketed at a price where the best version of it can reasonably expect to turn a profit.

What’s your advice to a writer with some modest success in film/TV in their home country, looking to parlay that into a Hollywood career? Is it better to wait for something I’m involved with in the UK to get some attention in the US (which, of course, might never happen) – or just turn up with a couple of good scripts and some stuff under my belt that the execs probably won’t have seen?

I think “both” is a legitimate answer. If you’ve got modest success in your home country, keep doing what you’re doing, especially if it’s keeping the lights on and allowing you to continue to write other scripts in your spare time.  And continue to write other scripts.  Have your local agent do their best to get your work to the States (there’s always a ton of interest here in UK screenwriters.)  Oh, and upload your work to the new Black List… I’m getting ahead of myself.  Keep watching this space.

What makes a Romantic Comedy really stand out from the rest that you read?

I love this question, because I have a soft spot for the genre, and it’s one that seems to be wilting over time. Romantic comedies are best when they do at least one of these three things:

1. Do something different with the girl meets boy, girl and boy get together, girl and boy fall apart,  girl and boy get getogether dynamic than has ever been done before.  Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman might bristle its inclusion in the genre, but, oh well.)

2. Illuminate some major truth about love and human courting that we either take for granted or have never really considered. No small task.

3. Write compelling, interesting characters who the audience will want to find love with each other, even before the characters realize it.  Write realistic obstacles to that love that seem insurmountable.  Have them overcome those obstacles in a manner that makes us believe that they’ve earned the happiness they will find in that relationship and that that happiness will last forever.  Romantic comedies are, after all, adult fairy tales about love.

What is the one thing you wish more writers knew about Hollywood and/or the business of making movies?

I think most writers know it, but I’m not sure it’s enough of a focus: it is a business. Making movies – at least in Hollywood – is probably the most capital intensive art form there is. If you want to make a movie, someone has to put up the money to make it, and whoever that is, unless they’re incredibly generous, is going to want to see that money at some point down the road, ideally with some extra thrown in. If you’re going to write a script that you want to see turned into a movie, you have to believe that it’s a good script and a good investment.

Thanks to Franklin for taking time this week to answer some of your questions!