The Black List’s Franklin Leonard Looks Ahead

In the next year, The Black List will venture beyond films–aiming to be the go-to site for the industry’s favorite unproduced TV pilots and stage shows. Are TV specials and conventions in its future? “We’re open to anything,” says founder Franklin Leonard.

After six years of spotlighting Hollywood’s favorite unproduced screenplays, The Black List has emerged with a strong enough brand and track record to further expand as a business and online screenwriter community.


Of the 500 screenplays highlighted in seven lists–begun in 2005 with submissions from a cadre that’s grown to more than 300 industry executives–over 120 of them have gotten made and distributed, earned $11 billion worldwide at the box office, and won 20 Academy Awards from over 80 nominations, says 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.

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, as well as script suggestions based on member’s 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, which are still a ways off.

“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.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.