The pitch: An oil company lobbyist (Leonardo DiCaprio) is shaken after his girlfriend, a local meteorologist, breaks up with him over reservations of his contribution to global warming. The split is hastened by a massive hurricane thrashing its way toward the east coast of the U.S., which would likely wreak Katrina-like damage from Maine to Myrtle Beach. DiCaprio's character, feeling guilty, soon discovers that the hurricane's path will also cross a long-dormant volcano, causing it to erupt and spew so much ash that it eventually swirls into a biological weapon that could mark the end of the world.
Would you greenlight this blockbuster? Would you even consider it?
Franklin Leonard hears dozens of pitches like this everyday, and it's his job as Universal Pictures' director of development to sift through these project and find the diamond in the rough.
"So basically you're pitching me Leo vs. the toxic-superstorm that'll destroy humanity," Leonard told the pitch-man. "His response, and I wish I was making this up, was: Well, when you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous."
Leonard, who spoke recently at Fast Company's Most Creative People Event and was #57 on our list, is best known as the creator the Hollywood Black List, an annual ranking of the year's best passed-over screenplays. Critically-acclaimed films such as There Will be Blood and Juno were first featured on the list before being made into award-winning movies. But as Leonard explained to audiences, it's not always easy to "separate the Superstorm's from the Slumdog Millionaire's."
Consider the following pitch:
"A guy walks around with a puppet of a beaver on his hand and treats it like a living creature."
Would you greenlight this film? Guess what, it's not only been made but it stars Mel Gibson.
Here's the rest of Leonard's amazing talk, which will explain a lot about how movies get made in Hollywood—and how his List is changing the industry.