Franklin Leonard’s influential Black List could not have had simpler origins. As a young film executive for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way in 2005, Leonard was simply tired of reading garbage scripts. So he emailed his friends in the industry to ask each for the 10 best screenplays they had read recently. He tallied up their answers and emailed them the results to thank them for participating. Overnight, his Black List became a must-read for Hollywood producers and a gift to obscure, hungry screenwriters, like Juno‘s Diablo Cody, and established scribes like The Social Network‘s Aaron Sorkin. Recent films like The Ides of March, The Descendants, and 50/50 gained early momentum from being included on Leonard’s exclusive list. Though it has grown in prominence in recent years, the Black List had remained as basic and analog as when it started.
Until today. Leonard launched a searchable online database that makes his List a real-time interactive barometer of what the town is reading. Like Netflix or Amazon’s recommendation features, the online Black List calculates users’ ratings of the scripts that insiders read and then uses those ranking to suggest other screenplays you are likely to enjoy — and perhaps produce. The upshoot is that select Hollywood insiders — you need to be screened and invited to join the $20/month service — will have daily access to an always-current Black List. Let their helpful introductory video explain:
That the List screens its applicants is probably a necessary precaution, but it will still be interesting to see how the service withstands industry pressure. Obviously, there are writers and producers who would love to game the system in order to bring greater attention to their projects. Leonard released his first several Lists anonymously, before the Los Angeles Times outed his authorship, and this evolutionary leap online means there’s no way to put that genie back in the bottle. I trust he’s prepared for the inevitable deluge of lobbying and “ballot-stuffing” that is sure to accompany the new format.
Despite such concerns, this has the potential to make a few unknown writers rich over night. Hollywood is a herd. A very competitive herd. And if important decisionmakers are informed of a project that they think their rivals want, the chance of a bidding frenzy goes up exponentially. This has happened in the past after Leonard’s annual Black List would be released. But now, every day could be Christmas for some hardworking scribe. To shamefully bastardize Ben Kingsley in Schindler’s List, “The List is life.”