The Black List – 1 June 25, 2013

So Franklin Leonard turns out to be a nice guy dressed in his own revamp of LA standard, the jeans-jacket-shirt thing augmented by a tidy pocket handkerchief and dreads falling nearly to his waist.

leonard copyLeonard is, of course, the founder and CEO of The Black List. Not the 1950s list of left-wing writers banned by Hollywood, but the millennial-age list first compiled in 2005, when Leonard named the favourite scripts of LA development executives that had not yet been made into feature films.

Each year since then, Leonard has compiled a series of Best-In-Show lists. It has featured more than 200 scripts later made into feature films—scripts that have received an aggregate of 148 Academy Award nominations. These include Best Picture winners Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech.

Leonard was in Toronto to speak as part of TIFF Studio, the new Toronto-based program designed to bring together Canadian film professionals, valiantly attempting to herd cats into a community. I was among a bleary early-morning crowd of filmmakers (okay, it was 10 a.m.) who heard Leonard speak last Saturday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The Black List? Leonard told us that the name is partly a cheeky reference to the 1950s list, which followed on the notorious Army-McCarthy hearings into alleged Communists among Hollywood screenwriters. It’s also partly because he’s black and partly, he says, because he intends to reclaim blackness as a positive rather than a negative, having grown up hating the black hats vs. white hats paradigm in old Hollywood Westerns.

It started when Leonard was a young Hollywood development executive and felt depressed by the poor quality of the scripts he was being asked to read. Before heading off on vacation that year, he emailed 75 people he knew in the LA development world asking them to send him their personal list of the best scripts they’d recently read that were not heading into production that year. That way, he could take some good reading with him.

Some of the 75 people he asked forwarded his request to friends, and Leonard was ultimately able to collate a list of recommendations from almost 100 Hollywood insiders, which he privately circulated in LA.

Buzz ensued, loud enough that Leonard has compiled a list every year since 2005 to rocketing  interest.

To be continued…)