Meet the Man Who Turns Forgotten Scripts Into Hollywood Gold

July 20, 2016 5:00 am
(Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
(Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
(Jeff Vespa/WireImage)


Mountains of unproduced movie scripts litter Hollywood. Many never see the light of day, but some are rediscovered and turned into huge box office successes. Take Oscar winners like Juno, Whiplash, and Selma, all of which had humbler beginnings. While Franklin Leonard was still working for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way, he began compiling a list of the year’s best scripts that hadn’t gotten greenlit yet. He would share them with the industry elite in the hopes that the listed projects gained traction. Leonard’s list, eventually dubbed “The Black List,” went through various iterations over the years before coming a website in 2009. It was this digital compilation of scripts that landed Leonard on The Hollywood Reporter‘s “35 under 35” list. Leonard discussed being labeled an industry sage in a recent interview:

“‘It’s still sort of surreal. I think that the thing that sort of gets me asked back or gets me invited to speak is that I’m constitutionally unable to bulls—t.’ Proving that, he continues: ‘And I think there’s some amount of, like—from a casting perspective—I’m a black guy with dreadlocks, and that person with the Harvard background talking about the economics of the industry. It’s fundamentally interesting.’ Though he has grown used to public speaking over the years, he still vomited before giving a speech at Fast Company’s 2010 Most Creative People in Business conference: ‘Ray Kurzweil was right before me,’ he explains. “Just to give you a sense of how out of place I was.’”

Since the site’s launching, “The Black List” has led to 225 scripts being produced and 175 Academy Award nominations for those films—including three out of the last six Best Pictures and seven of the last 14 screenwriting awards. To learn more about Franklin Leonard and his list, read this story in Harvard Magazine. To hear Leonard’s take on the film business—as well as what the Black List has done for it—watch the video below.

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