Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard with his staff on the WGAW picket line. Photo by Dexter Kim.

Career & Craft

Making the List

Nearly 20 years since its founding, the Black List is a resource for writers.

The numbers grab you immediately. 

In the 19 years since its debut as a list of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts, the Black List (first the annual list followed by the website) has hosted 1,500 scripts, at least 440 of which have been produced to the tune of $40 billion in worldwide box office. These films have gone on to garner 300 Oscar nominations and 50 wins including 12 best screenplay Oscar winners..

Franklin Leonard

Franklin Leonard, the Black List’s founder and CEO, is happy to rattle off these statistics, but always with the caveat that he won’t take credit for the films that get onto the list or for their subsequent success.

“I didn’t make those movies,” said Leonard. “I didn’t produce those movies. I didn’t do craft services on them. I certainly didn’t write them. At best, I can take credit for building a metal detector that found the needles.”

The purpose of the Black List—which Leonard characterizes as a mash-up of LinkedIn, Google, and Wikipedia for scribes—is to help writers get their films made. Writers can create a profile page where they host their scripts, list their representatives or set up contact information for industry experts to discover. For a fee, writers can also get detailed feedback on their scripts from Black List readers. 

Through a series of partnerships with organizations such as UPS and General Motors, the Black List works to help writers from underrepresented communities get their short films made. Partnerships with MGM and Tubi have given writers two-step deals at Guild minimum for their original feature screenplays. From 2022 to 2023, more than $1 million went into writers’ pockets through partnerships on the Black List website. 

The year 2025 will mark 20 years since the birth of the Black List’s annual list. In 2005, while working as a junior executive for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Leonard sought out scripts that he could take to his boss, Brad Simpson. He asked friends in the industry to send him a list of their best unproduced screenplays, which he then collated and circulated. That best unproduced screenplay list went viral and became an annual release. 

As the years went on, when Leonard spoke at schools and film festivals, he was regularly asked about how one gets their work seen in Hollywood. He didn’t have an easy answer.

“I would ask people who had been in the industry longer than me, ‘If I’m a writer and I grew up in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia or anywhere that isn’t L.A. or New York, how do I get my work to people who can do something with it?’” Leonard said. 

When he was asked these types of questions, Leonard typically advised people to enter the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting and hope they place high enough to get a phone call. Or he would recommend people to move to L.A., get a job at Starbucks, network and hustle until someone paid attention. 

This was not, Leonard acknowledges, the pathway that aspiring writers wanted to hear, or that he wanted to provide.

Writers and writing are undervalued, and by valuing them appropriately and building infrastructure around finding and celebrating the best of them wherever they are, it’s better for the business as a whole.

- Franklin Leonard

“I don’t know if I’m just hyper-sensitive to these kinds of access issues because I grew up Black in the Deep South or if it’s just the business part of my brain that says, ‘We’re not finding the best talent if that’s how we’re approaching talent recruitment,’” Leonard said. “But I realized we could build a solution to that, which was that anybody on earth can submit their work, and they can get feedback.”

Build it he did, launching the Black List website in 2012. Feedback has become a big part of the Black List services with writers who sign up to get their scripts reviewed getting responses back in just under a week. If a script gets an evaluation of 8 or higher, it can live on the site free of charge. Users can come back for multiple assessments, and Leonard provides customer support to prevent people from feeling like they didn’t get a fair evaluation. WGA members are eligible for a 20 percent discount for paid services. 

He is up front about the fact that assistance from Black List readers doesn’t guarantee your film will end up being made.

“I can’t be telling people that they don’t have good scripts, so they should keep giving us money and we’ll figure it out for you,” Leonard said. “If we’re not getting you traction, stop giving us money. Take the script down. Do a rewrite or whatever you need to do.”

The Black List has been in unity with the Guild since the list’s inception. During the 2023 strike, Leonard and his staff were on the WGAW picket lines and, in solidarity, the Black List suspended the memberships of more than 1,300 production executives who were employed by struck companies so they could not access writers’ work during the stoppage. In 2019, Leonard received the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the WGAE for “elevating the honor and dignity of screenwriters.” 

“It seems blindingly obvious to me that writers and writing are undervalued,” Leonard said. “And by valuing them appropriately and building infrastructure around finding and celebrating the best of them wherever they are, it’s better for the business as a whole.”

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