While Prisoners, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Spectacular Now have generated positive reviews at the box office, they also share one common distinction: They were all recognized on Franklin Leonard’s Black List, an annual compendium of the year’s most-liked un-produced screenplays as determined by the hundreds of executives in Hollywood that spend their lives reading scripts.
Leonard, 35, began the list in 2005 on a lark. As a young development executive about to leave for winter vacation, he was tired of all the bad scripts he’d been reading. On a whim he sent out an email to everyone her knew in the business — at the time about 95 individuals — asking them to select the screenplays they enjoyed reading most over the past 12 months. He compiled the results, named it the Black List (Leonard is African-American) and a phenomenon was born.
This year, the executive surveyed over 250 professionals, in addition to launching a website in October 2012 where any aspiring screenwriter can submit their script for a fee and receive feedback and perhaps even an entry into Hollywood. This year’s list features five scripts that came directly from the website.
“The biggest headline I found this year is the gap between being an aspiring screenwriter and a working screenwriter is now simply being a good screenwriter,” says Leonard, whose website now counts 2200 industry professionals, including both agency assistants and studio presidents, as its members. “The obstacles that were there just to get your script to the right people are officially gone.”
Leonard’s successes include Irish writer Declan O’Dwyer, whose crime drama Broken Country was purchased by producer Basil Iwanyk. Another writer, Richard Cordiner, lives in San Francisco and works in the advertising business, and based on the strength of his screenplay about the making of Jaws, landed a deal at Warner Bros. (His script The Shark Is Not Working also received a spot on the list.)
“The idea that you have to live in Los Angeles to break through is no longer true.”
Leonard says his industry base downloaded 12,000 screenplays in the first year.
Also significant this year are scripts focused on real people but distilled down to a critical moment in their lives. Out of 72 scripts, 20 are based on true events, including Debora Cahn’s script The Special Program, which centers on a young attorney who took on Vice President Dick Cheney and his illegal Special Program. There are also two scripts about Mr. Rogers, one on Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, one on Oscar Wilde, and two about the making of the movie Jaws.
Gone are the days of the cradle-to-grave biopics, with writers preferring to go deep into one significant moment, à la The King’s Speech or even Saving Mr. Banks, as it pertains to Walt Disney.
“The snapshot biopic, where everything before the movie begins is obvious and everything that follows afterwards is obvious, [is gaining steam],” Leonard says. “It’s not about writing a movie that can be a $700 million box-office grosser. Produce a good story well told with emotional content and real people, and you’ve got a darn good chance of the industry taking notice.”
The top 10 scripts, which feature two female screenwriters and one African-American, are below:
HOLLAND, MICHIGAN by Andrew Sodroski (46 votes)
Log line: When a traditional Midwestern woman suspects her husband of infidelity, an amateur investigation unravels.
Status: In pre-production with Naomi Watts scheduled to star and Errol Morris attached to direct.
SECTION 6 by Aaron Berg (44 votes)
Log line: An exploration of the formation of Great Britain’s secret intelligence agency, Military Intelligence, Section 6, known more commonly as MI6.
Status: In development with Marc Platt Productions
FRISCO by Simon Stephenson (39 votes)
Log line: A forty-something pediatric allergist, who specializes in the hazelnut and is facing a divorce, learns lessons in living from a wise-beyond-her-years terminally ill 15 year old patient when she crashes his weekend trip to a conference in San Francisco.
Status: Optioned by producer Tom McNulty (Date Night)
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness, author of the Chaos Walking book series (27 votes)
Log line: An adolescent boy with a terminally ill single mother begins having visions of a tree monster, who tells him truths about life in the form of three stories, helping him to eventually cope with his emotions over his dying mom.
THE SPECIAL PROGRAM by Debora Cahn, Grey’s Anatomy producer (25 votes)
Log line: The true story of Jack Goldsmith, a young attorney who took charge of the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel, then courageously took on Vice President Cheney and his powerful inner circle when he discovered they were running a number of illegal activities through their so-called “Special Program.”
Status: Optioned by producer Paula Weinstein at Spring Creek Productions
SOVEREIGN by Geoff Tock, Greg Weidman (24 votes)
Log line: A man goes to space to destroy the ship that, upon going sentient, killed his wife.
Status: Optioned by director Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps production company
HOT SUMMER NIGHTS by Elijah Bynum, the only writer to have two scripts on the list with Mississippi Mud (24 votes)
Log line: A teenager’s life spirals out of control when he befriends the town’s rebel, falls in love, and gets entangled in selling drugs over one summer in Cape Cod.
Status: Optioned by Flashlight Films
SHOVEL BUDDIES by Jason Mark Hellerman, discovered by The Black List website (22 votes)
Log line: Over 24 hours, four teenage friends try to complete the “Shovel List” (a will/bucket list) left for them by their best friend before he died of Leukemia.
THE INDEPENDENT by Evan Parter (20 votes)
Log line: With America’s first viable independent Presidential Candidate poised for victory, an idealistic young journalist uncovers a conspiracy, which places the fate of the election, and the country, in his hands.
REMINISCENCE Lisa Joy Nolan, Jonah Nolan’s wife (20 votes)
Log line: An “archeologist” whose technology allows you to relive your past finds himself abusing his own science to find the missing love of his life.
Status: Optioned by Legendary Pictures
POX AMERICANA by Frank John Hughes, actor Catch Me If You Can, Bad Boys--turned-screenwriter (20 votes)
Log line: In the Old West, a group of soldiers go on a mission to slaughter a peaceful tribe in retaliation for another tribe’s attack on a white settlement, only to suffer at the hands of a devastating disease.
Status: Optioned by Code Entertainment
And here’s the list of all 72 scripts:
LINE OF DUTY by Cory Miller
THE BOY AND HIS TIGER by Dan Dollar (@dandollar)
INQUEST by Josh Simon (@joshuasimon)
SWEETHEART by Jack Stanley
THE COMPANY MAN by Andrew Cypiot
BURN SITE by Doug Simon
SHOVEL BUDDIES by Jason Mark Hellerman (@jasonhellerman)
CAPSULE by Ian Shorr (@ianshorr)
PURE O by Kate Trefry
FULLY WRECKED by Jake Morse & Scott Wolman
THE END OF THE TOUR by Donald Margulies
THE MAYOR OF SHARK CITY by Nick Creature (@creatureamongus) & Michael Sweeney
SPOTLIGHT by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
EXTINCTION by Spenser Cohen (@iamspensercohen)
BURY THE LEAD by Justin Kremer (@kremsicles)
GAY KID AND FAT CHICK by Bo Burnham (@boburnham)
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Alexis C Jolly (@alexiscjolly)
INK AND BONE by Zak Olkewicz (@zolkewicz)
DOGFIGHT by Nicole Riegel
SOVEREIGN by Geoff Tock (@geofftock) & Greg Weidman
THE SPECIAL PROGRAM by Debora Cahn
FAULTS by Riley Stearns (@rileystearns)
THE INDEPENDENT by Evan Parter (@4evanparter)
THE SHARK IS NOT WORKING by Richard Cordiner (@richardcordiner)
AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE by Richard Naing & Ian Goldberg
THE CIVILIAN by Rachel Long & Brian Pittman
THE CROWN by Max Hurwitz
REVELATION by Hernany Perla
THE KILLING FLOOR by Bac Delorme & Stephen Clarke
ELSEWHERE by Mikki Daughtry (@mikkidaughtry) & Tobias Iaconis
CLARITY by Ryan Belenzon (@noblezen) & Jeffrey Gelber
1969: A SPACE ODYSSEY OR HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON by Stephany Folsom (@stephanyfolsom)
FROM HERE TO ALBION by Rory Haines & Sohrab Noshirivani
NICHOLAS by Leo Sardarian (@leo_avalon)
THE GOLDEN RECORD by Aaron Kandell & Jordan Kandell
MAN OF SORROW by Neville Kiser (@nevillekiser)
DIG by Adam Barker (@a_t_barker)
FREE BYRD by Jon Boyer (@jonboyer)
REMINISCENCE by Lisa Joy Nolan
BEAUTY QUEEN by Annie Neal (@annieneal)
AMERICAN SNIPER by Jason Dean Hall
TCHAIKOVSKY’S REQUIEM by Jonathan Stokes (@jonathanwstokes)
THE REMAINS by Meaghan Oppenheimer (@moppyopps)
BEAST by Zach Dean
THE LINE by Sang Kyu Kim (@sangkyukim)
HALF HEARD IN STILLNESS by David Weil
THE FIXER by Bill Kennedy (@thebillykennedy)
POX AMERICANA by Frank John Hughes (@frankjhughes)
TIME & TEMPERATURE by Nick Santora
BROKEN COVE by Declan O’Dwyer (@thelastsouthpaw)
LAST MINUTE MAIDS by Leo Nicholas
SECTION 6 by Aaron Berg
SUGAR IN MY VEINS by Barbara Stepansky (@bstepansky)
WHERE ANGELS DIE by Alexander Felix
FRISCO by Simon Stephenson
SEA OF TREES by Chris Sparling (@chrissparling)
CAKE by Patrick Tobin
SEED by Christina Hodson
SUPERBRAT by Eric Slovin & Leo Allen (@leopoldallen)
PAN by Jason Fuchs
DUDE by Oliva Milch
HOT SUMMER NIGHTS by Elijah Bynum (@bynumelijah)
HOLLAND, MICHIGAN by Andrew Sodroski
QUEEN OF HEARTS by Stephanie Shannon (@stephshanz)
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness (@patrick_ness)
RANDLE IS BENIGN by Damien Ober (@presidentcuster)
MAKE A WISH by Zach Frankel
PATIENT Z by Michael Le (@DFTVYP)
MISSISSIPPI MUD by Elijah Bynum (@bynumelijah)