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.”

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“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, FiveThirtyEight.com, 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 general@blcklst.com 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:

CHRIS MCGURK
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.

CATHERINE PAURA
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.

FRANKLIN LEONARD
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!

Q&A: Franklin Leonard

September 6th, 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 another question:

Peering into your crystal ball, what trends do you see emerging in the movie business over the next decade?

A radical transformation in the way aspiring screenwriters get their material to industry professionals… but, I may be getting ahead of myself.

Trends I feel pretty confident about:

1. Greater international focus. International box office is Hollywood’s growth sector.  In the last five years, international box office in US dollars grew 35% (from $16.4BN to $22.4BN) while domestic box office has been largely stagnant, growing only 6%.  Much of this growth is coming from countries with growing economies and burgeoning middle classes – Russia, Mexico, Brazil, China – who now have more time and, more importantly, money to spend on leisure activities like pay for movies.  It’s only natural that the industry will consider and cater to those audiences.  Expect to see more globe trotting plotlines, actors from those countries, possibly even national myths, legends, and fairy tales that can be adapted into big budget blockbusters, and less content that may offend the political sensibilities of those countries (and, more relevantly their governments.)  Also, maybe fewer comedies though I’d argue that the international success of the HANGOVER franchise and TED suggests that there’s real money internationally in those that don’t worry too much about America’s tendencies toward the puritanical.

2. More experimentation with windowing.  At some point in the next ten years, probably in the next two, a studio is going to do what Universal almost did with their release of Tower Heist last year: make a major release – probably a comedy – available for audiences to stream to their homes on the same night it opens in theaters. I have no idea what the response will be from audiences, but I believe it will be a critical moment in how our industry evolves amidst the current technological maelstrom.

3. More bigger movies, more smaller movies. Rising costs and largely flat domestic revenue means that making movies is an increasingly risky financial proposition.  Expect the industry to respond to that risk by increasingly limiting their bets to “all-in” big ones or very responsible small ones.  Increasingly Hollywood is going to be dominated by two kinds of movies: 1. Huge budget summer blockbusters where the financier (usually a studio) can reasonably hope that there’s a billion dollars worth of box office on the other end of their several hundred million dollar investment in production and marketing. 2. Movies that are made for the smallest budget reasonably possible, often for a niche audience (horror fans, independent film fans, the “urban” audience), with the reasonable hope that moderate success will turn a small profit and crossover success will yield a huge one.

4. More big budget adaptations of stories you already know. Of the top grossing 35 films of the last 15 years, all but two were either sequels or adaptations of stories most people already knew when they went into the theater. (The two are AVATAR and FINDING NEMO.) Need I say more?

5. More smaller movies, period. Never has it been less expensive to make a movie. If you have a smartphone with a video camera and a halfway decent computer, you have all the tools you need.  Whether it’s a good movie is entirely up to you and I’m not naive enough to think that all that many of those movies will be terribly strong, but the fact is simple: many more people today have the resources at their disposal to make a movie than ever before.

6. More varied sources of film financing. We’re seeing this everywhere, largely supported by the internet.  Kickstarter and Indiegogo are extraordinary as a source for filmmakers to raise money for their projects, and Slated.com is a new venue I’m incredibly excited about for films whose budgets may be slightly outside of what one could reasonably expect to raise by crowdsourcing.

7. Increased importance of filmmakers and actors’ direct relationship with their fans. Film financiers are taking note of the extent to which actors and directors can motivate their fans to get off their couches and go see their movies.  Motivated fans equal increased box office and decreased risk.  This is also true for independent filmmakers who may be crowdsourcing all or part of their financing: if you’ve got a consistent community of fans who like your movies, it’s a lot easier to go them and ask them for money to make the next one, and a lot more likely they’re going to give it to you.

If you have a question for Franklin, please post in comments. Hopefully he can get to it. If not, I’ll be happy to take a crack at it.

Q&A: Franklin Leonard

September 5th, 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 two more Q&A’s:

One of the most significant changes in the last 10-15 years in Hollywood movie acquisition and development circles is the increase of literary managers. How has that development impacted the business?

I came of age professionally in Hollywood after the proliferation of managers had already begun, so it’s difficult for me to compare it to the days when there weren’t very many. As in any profession, there are good ones, and there are bad ones.  The good ones support their clients, as rigorous editors, developers, and interrogators of their material, as therapists and friends, and as advocates to the Hollywood community.  The bad ones give terrible notes, insert themselves where they’re not welcome and not helpful, and ruin their clients’ good names by association, and then ask for 15% of their clients hard earned money.  There are more of both now than there were when I started.

When you read a screenplay, what elements are you looking for that let you know this is a story by a professional screenwriter?

I don’t know that there’s a difference between the writing of a professional screenwriter and a non-professional screenwriter except that the former has gotten paid to write a screenplay at some point in the past. I’ve read great screenplays by writers who have never written a screenplay before and I’ve read terrible screenplays by writers who have been doing it professionally for decades.

I’m going to paraphrase our President (who I happen to think is an excellent writer and public speaker though to my knowledge he’s never written a screenplay) to answer this: “A great writer thinks three to four sentences ahead of the sentence she’s writing.” I think this is true for screenplays as well.

Great screenplays read as though the writer has thought of everything and knows they’ve thought of everything. They know on page one where they’re going to be on page thirty, on page sixty, on page one twenty, and the writing on each of those pages – all of it: the images, the turns of phrase, the character description – exists in service of telling a story that’s going to elicit an emotional reaction whether that be laughter, sadness, exhiliration, inspiration, or fear or some combination of all of them.

If you have a question for Franklin, please post in comments. Hopefully he can get to it. If not, I’ll be happy to take a crack at it.

Q&A: Franklin Leonard

September 4th, 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 the first two Q&A’s:

Are the screenplays you read nowadays better or worse than 10 years ago? Yes or no, how are they different?

Honestly, it’s a difficult data-set for my brain to process: the hundreds of scripts that I read during my first year in Hollywood versus the hundreds of scripts that I’ll read this year. That plus the reality that what I read then and now only represents a small subset of what’s being written (all of these issues were why I created the Black List, by the way.) The real difference, to the extent there is one, I think, is that my job is different.  When I was an assistant, I tried to read everything I could get my hands on: anything that sold, anything my boss’s clients were writing, anything that I heard from another assistant was good.  Now, such a high percentage of the reading I do is specifically related to something that I’m doing in my capacity at Overbrook Entertainment, which means that a lot of it is high commercial writing, though I still take the time to read scripts that people are tipping as probables for the Black List each year.

What do you think has been some of the key effects the Black List has had in terms of screenwriters in Hollywood?

This is always a hard question for me, if only because I never want to overstate the role the Black List plays in Hollywood or people’s lives.  What I know is that the Black List draws a hell of a lot of attention to the scripts that are on it. Hollywood – from the lowliest assistant to triple A list actors – reads the scripts that are on the Black List. Period. And those reads typically result in interest in both the writer and the scripts, which hopefully make it more likely that those scripts get made and those writers get employed (and hopefully for more money than they do otherwise.)

If you have a question for Franklin, please post in comments. Hopefully he can get to it. If not, I’ll be happy to take a crack at it.