After six years of spotlighting Hollywood’s favorite unproduced screenplays, The Black List has emerged with a strong brand and track record to further expand as a business and online screenwriter community.
Of the 500 screenplays highlighted in seven lists, over 120 have been made and distributed, earned $11 billion worldwide at the box office, and won 20 Academy Awards from over 80 nominations, says Black List founder Franklin Leonard, VP of creative affairs for Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment. Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and Juno are a few that made past lists. This year’s topper is The Imitation Game, which has already been bought by Warner Bros. for Leonardo DiCaprio.
Leonard started the list in 2005 by canvassing a small group of entertainment executives on their favorite unproduced scripts; over time the number of contributors has grown to 307.
Next year, Leonard will continue expanding the list’s paid membership model. This past October, he launched a new service for $20 per month that offers film industry folks—from directors and studio heads to agent’s assistants—access to a "real time" Black List, one that’s constantly evolving throughout the year as scripts are read and put forward. Members are also offered script suggestions based on their individual tastes, in the vein of Netflix recommending movies to subscribers based on previous rentals. Black List subscribers can tailor their searches by genre, dates, talent attachments, and production status. Soon, that membership will include a small-screen component, where TV counterparts can weigh in on pilots in development, with film tastes affecting recommended TV scripts and vice versa. And by the end of next year, Leonard hopes to have a similar section for favorite unproduced plays and musicals.
Leonard is also expanding the website to create a community for working and aspiring screenwriters. He recently partnered with two screenwriting bloggers, Scott Myers and Xander Bennett, to provide deeper discussions of relevant topics and advice. There have even been talks about possible TV specials, networking events, and conferences.
"We’re open to doing anything as long as we remain focused our original mandate of spotlighting great creative work and creating commercial opportunities where previously there may have been none," says Leonard.
Over the years, Leonard has noticed his list’s popularity coinciding with the general cultural trend of reassessing the ingredients for commercial success, and categorizing information via social media. "It’s a trend you’re starting to see elsewhere, with apps like Oink, which points you to best-liked things around you and Klout, which gauges your online influence using data from your social networks," says Leonard.
"The Black List tweaks the demand curve," he adds. "In Hollywood, that can translate subtly into a reexamination of what is commercial—it might not be the most obvious thing. You can also affect choices by delivering people something their taste indicates they might like, but didn’t previously know about. And it’s something they can check on their own, because we’re also telling them what it is, who else likes it, and how much you can rely on those people’s opinions."