Interview: Franklin Leonard on Expanding 'The Black List' & Finding Great Screenwriters

Screen Rant talks to Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List - the annual list of Hollywood's most acclaimed unproduced screenplays.

The Blacklist now offers script review service

Back in 2005, Franklin Leonard, then a development executive for Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way, was doing what most development executives do: slogging through hundreds upon hundreds of scripts to try and find something worthwhile. The process was long, stressful, and rarely resulted in finding quality scripts.

So he decided to get some help. Knowing that there were plenty of others just like him, Franklin sent a survey to approximately a hundred of his colleagues asking for recommendations on their favorite unproduced scripts. The result was the first edition of The Black List, which has since become one of the most anticipated annual events in Hollywood and has helped to catapult screenwriters from obscurity into successful careers.

Since its inception, more than 200 Black List screenplays have been made into feature films, earning over $16 billion in worldwide box office and receiving 25 Academy Awards and 148 nominations. However, despite this tremendous success, Franklin Leonard hasn't stopped innovating the list. Last year, he rolled out a paid model of The Black List so that industry executives could read a "real time" version of the list. Recently, Leonard reversed that idea and made The Black List free for Hollywood insiders to access with a new twist.

In an announcement today, Leonard revealed that The Black List would now allow screenwriters to upload their scripts and have them reviewed by professional script readers. Quoting from the press announcement:

The Black List founder Franklin Leonard and co-founder/CTO Dino Sijamic announced today the launch of a paid service that allows any screenwriter, amateur or professional, to upload their script to The Black List’s database. The script will be evaluated by professional script readers, and, depending on its evaluation(s), read by as many as 1,000 film industry professionals who are currently a part of the membership site.

The cost of the service is $25 per month to host your screenplay and a one-time fee of $50 if you choose to get your script covered (which are reasonably priced fees for the script consulting industry, particularly given the possible upside of having your script recommended to more than 1,000 film industry professionals).

Franklin Leonard Discusses the Black List
Franklin Leonard wants to give screenwriters a fighter's chance at making it big in Hollywood.

Upon the announcement of the new Black List feature, the Hollywood screenwriting and development community immediately started buzzing. To learn more about the service, and its potential to connect movie studios with great original scripts from unknown writers, Screen Rant spoke with Franklin Leonard by phone.

Screen Rant: First off, who are the readers that will evaluate amateur scripts?

Franklin Leonard: "All of our readers have worked as first filters for major studios, agencies, production companies, and management companies. And they've all been vetted based on the number of professional scripts they've read."

So far, the screenwriting community has had a mixed reaction to this news. Many believe it is a positive way for aspiring screenwriters to break into Hollywood, while others are more skeptical. What are your thoughts on that skepticism? How is The Black List screenwriting review service different from other offerings?

FL: I think a healthy skepticism is a good thing and, as a consequence, I want to be as transparent as possible about what we're doing, how we're doing it, why we're doing it in the way that we're doing it, and why we're doing it all.

I think there have been so many people that have been scamming writers for so long that the natural reaction when anything shows up that asks people to spend money is to assume that it's like everything else. I think if people look closely at what we're doing and how we're doing it, they'll begin to see that what we're doing is very, very, very different than anything that's been done before. And also that it's structured in a way to empower the writer to make intelligent decisions and responsible decisions with their money based on information they get from us. There are two really good examples of that.

First, the evaluations that the readers provide are only visible to our industry professional community if and only if the writer of the script wants to make them visible. They can keep the average score of their script, the review score, the evaluation as a whole - all that they can keep private. We still use the content of that evaluation to identify the top scripts and make targeted recommendations.

The second thing is, you can actually view traffic to your script page - the volume of traffic to your script page, number of downloads, and the number of ratings - so you know if it's actually attracting attention based on the evaluations. So if you're not getting any traffic because your reads have been middling, then you should take it down and we encourage people to take scripts down when they're not getting the traffic they want.

We're not trying to take advantage of people, we're trying to create an ecosystem that will allow talented scripts to get found and talented people to have the careers that they want. And if you're not finding that, we don't want your money.

SR: How do you think this will actually impact the screenwriting world, especially for the development community? It's more or less a fact that 99% of aspiring screenwriters aren't going to make it because they just don't have the chops. Will it really lead to an uptick in great scripts?

FL: I think the people it really affects are two groups. The 5-10% of people who are writing scripts that are worthy of real consideration from the industry will be affected dramatically. Unlike before where you'd have to send to a ScriptShark or try and move to L.A. and network, all you've got to do is pay at most a couple hundred dollars and you can get your script to literally over a thousand people.

On the development side, the reaction is very positive. Everyone's career can be made or broken by finding a good script or letting a good script go. I think the opportunity to find good scripts in a really easy way on your computer and having them right at hand has led to an overwhelmingly positive response.

There are questions that remain: A) What will be the quality of the scripts that will be submitted and B) how good will the filters be that identity new material? I'm very confident in our filters and I really look to the community of screenwriters to submit their best work. I hope to God they're all amazing. Nothing would make me happier. I'm realistic that they probably aren't, but I'm also very, very confident about the fact that our algorithm will be able to identify the ones that are good and present opportunities to people that would be unable to find them anywhere else.


As I've discussed in a range of articles here at Screen Rant, new technology is rapidly changing the Hollywood landscape. The Black List 3.0 is just one example - and hopefully one that leads to better movies being produced.

Franklin Leonard has been answering more questions about The Black List in detail in this thread at the Done Deal Pro forums and also in the comments of this blog post at Go Into The Story. If you're an aspiring screenwriter, I highly recommend checking out both links to learn more about this unique and exciting opportunity.

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