At CHUD we often reference the Black List, as the annual list of the best screenplays in Hollywood is something that tends to launch at least a few scripts into production, and thus news about projects can often be traced back to it. If you’re curious how the blacklist began though, I thought I’d bring you up to speed before going through this year’s recently released list. You might have some questions about the list- how did it start? How is it assembled? How could it possibly not have been co-opted by the Hollywood machine into something self-serving and wicked?
The answers to most of those questions come down to one man- Franklin Leonard. A Harvard Grad, and a native Georgian (we churn out good folks from time to time), Leonard had spent much of his career working on congressional campaigns and working for McKinsey & Company as an analyst. All of that is to say that Leonard is an old pro at data gathering, aggregating, and analysis, which brought him to Appian Way Productions earlier in the decade. A company owned by Leonardo Dicaprio, Appian was (and still is) a smallish production house that’s nevertheless been involved with some big projects, with releases like Orphan, Public Enemies, The Aviator, and Shutter Island under their belt. They also have their hands in the films Akira, Ninja Scroll, and Red Riding Hood that are all in some level of production. Leonard found himself reading scripts at the production house, which meant spending his time wading through a lot garbage to find very little gold. It was a few months into his new job that he grew frustrated enough with navigating the sea of mediocrity that he did something about it…
Cut to Leonard returning from vacation in late 2005, finding that he’d received dozens of responses and email forwards concerning a little list he had put together shortly before leaving. It wasn’t a big deal- he had pinged all of the Hollywood executives and readers on his email list for their top 10 favorite scripts of that year that were unproduced or yet to be released. Assembling the list with a simple system that ranked the scripts by the frequency with which each one was mentioned, he shot it back out to the people that responded before he took off for the beach or wherever it was he was vacationing. Without him every really intending it to be so, he had created a phenomenon with his ironically titled “Blacklist” and it has since turned him into a career-maker and deal-breaker.
Keeping the list up annually is still only a small matter of him corralling his email contacts into submitting their top 10 lists, assembling them, and then returning it to the voters (of which there are between two and three hundred). Each year the list spreads out on its own from there, sweeping almost virally across all of Hollywood and generating buzz for the lucky projects. It’s a fascinating and cool story to see how simple it was for Leonard to start this tradition, despite the really admirable heat it’s provided to great projects that may have otherwise never gotten made, and writers that would have never been heard. There Will Be Blood, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, The Social Network, The Beaver, Inglourious Basterds, Nowhere Boy, Easy A, and Serial Killer Days have all been inclusions on past lists and gone on to be completed films. There has been plenty of news this year surrounding scripts like Broken City, The Hand Job, and Pierre Pierre that have made the list, and one of our own was even great enough to be included in 2008. I do have to mention that A Couple of Dicks, which became Kevin Smith’s Cop Out, made the list in 2008, and while who knows what happened to that script before it was actually filmed, perhaps it should be noted that the Blacklist isn’t always filled with the objectively “best” scripts in Hollywood but rather, the most well-liked.
Naturally there are probably hidden agendas in many (maybe even most) of the various studio execs and development heads lists that they submit to Leonard, but considering a film must be mentioned on many top 10 lists to merit inclusion, it’s unlikely that a lot of huge conspiracies have manipulated a film onto the list just to serve a specific executive’s wish. Frankly, any script that would have that much force behind it doesn’t need to be on the Blacklist. By remaining an ultimately small and simple tradition from one guy, the list has retained its status, for at least the past few years, as the go-to guide for what’s good in Hollywood. This year has seen more buzz than ever surrounding the release of the Blacklist, and I thought I’d dig through the list, which Deadline posted for the world to enjoy, and see what interesting things I could find. You’ll notice a number of projects you’ve heard about, including some large-scale stuff, but it’s mostly populated by unknowns and small projects. Not all of them scream “brilliant!’ just from the logline, but a few sound interesting right from the get-go…
PAINT by Brit McAdamsâ€¨
“A Bob Ross-esque PBS painting show host must fight for his career when his station brings in a rival painting host.”â€¨
AGENT United Talent Agency – Blair Kohan, Geoff Morleyâ€¨
MANAGER The Collective – Sam Maydewâ€¨Rip Cord Productions producing.
I love the sound of this script about a PBS painter who is met with a rival show host. It reads like a comedy synopsis (in fact, I would have pegged it as a Funny Or Die bit at first glance), but what if this is serous high-drama? That could be even better! Watch the Black Swan trailer again and imagine dancing replaced with public-broadcasting painting demonstrations… pirouettes replaced with Happy Trees… If it is a comedy though, I’m shocked it hasn’t already been greenlit with Will Farrell
in the lead, as it sounds like just the kind of film that crew would cook up.
AMERICAN BULLSHIT by Eric Warren Singer
“The true story of Abscam, the FBI’s 1980 undercover sting operation of Congress to root out corruption which was the brainchild of the world’s greatest con man.”
AGENT Creative Artists Agency – Robert Bookman, Billy Hawkins, Stuart Manashil
Sony. Atlas Entertainment producing.
Provocative (and probably soon modified) title aside, this is the really cool story of the FBI’s “Abdul Enterprises” sting, which had them entrapping congressmen into shady doings with a made-up Arab sheik. They ended up busting 5 House reps, an immigration inspector, some Jersey and Philly politicians, and also the first senator to be imprisoned in well over half a century. What’s great is that the FBI hired a con-man to lead the whole thing! There was a ton of controversy about the methods the FBI used, but all of their convictions were ultimately upheld. The whole thing was supposed to be made into a movie starring Aykroyd and Belushi in the early 80s, but it was one of many projects to die along with Belushi. This could be a hell of flick.
MURDER OF A CAT by Christian Magalhars & Robert Snow
â€¨“A darkly comic noir about a guy trying to unravel the mystery around the murder of his pet cat.”â€¨
AGENT The Gersh Agency – Carolyn Sivitz
â€¨MANAGER Madhouse Entertainment – Adam Kolbrenner, Chris Cook
Frankly, I just think this is a hell of a funny idea for a funny noir film.
HYDE by Cole Haddonâ€¨
“An allegedly rehabilitated Dr. Jekyll is pulled out of prison to help hunt a new monster who seems to be using an improved version of the Hyde serum.”â€¨
AGENT International Creative Management – Lars Theriot, Ava Jamshidiâ€¨
MANAGER Anonymous Content – Alex Goldstoneâ€¨Dark Horse Entertainment, Mark Gordon Productions, Skydance Productions producing.
I find it interesting that this kind of monster movie has made the list, despite the still wafting stink of Van Helsing and The Wolfman. This could the case of a batch of studio execs pushing for a film they’re invested in, but for it to make it on the list someone has to have read and liked it. We could use more monster movies that are good at the script level and not just because of the effects, so here’s hoping this is an example of that.
OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL by Mitchell Kapner
â€¨“Based on the books of L. Frank Baum. The story of how a con artist from Kansas became the Wizard behind the curtain.”â€¨
AGENT HML – Bob Hohman, Bayard Maybank, Debra Liebâ€¨
MANAGER Fineman Entertainment – Ross Finemanâ€¨Disney. Roth Films producing
Oz is the word in Hollywood right now. I hope this script is around because it’s actually good and not because a big studio is becoming increasingly invested in it. Raimi latching on despite his wide choice of big projects is a good sign that this might actually belong though.
DARK MOON by Olatunde Osunsanmiâ€¨
“Using found footage, story explores the possibility that manned moon missions did not stop with Apollo 17.”â€¨
AGENT Creative Artists Agency – Billy Hawkins, Ben Kramerâ€¨
MANAGER Caliber Media – Dallas Sonnierâ€¨Dark Castle Entertainment. Weed Road Pictures producing.
LOOPER by Rian Johnson
“In the present day, a group of hitmen are sent their victims from the future.”
AGENT Featured Artists Agency – Brian Dreyfuss
Endgame Entertainment. Gordonstreet Pictures producing.
Looper is gearing up to film right now and has been a praised script for a number of years. I’m happy to see this make the list knowing I’ll be seeing the film itself next year!
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER by Seth Grahame-Smith
“When the mother of future United States President Abraham Lincoln is murdered by a vampire, he begins a lifelong vendetta to rid the world of the heinous creatures.”
AGENT William Morris Endeavor – Cliff Roberts, Jeff Gorin
Fox. Tim Burton Productions, Bazelevs Productions producing.
GANGSTER SQUAD by Will Beall
“Amidst the corruption and chaos of 1940s Los Angeles, the LAPD’s Gangster Squad works to keep the East Coast Mafia out of the city.”
AGENT Creative Artists Agency – Jay Baker, Shari Smiley
MANAGER Management 360 – Darin Friedman
Warner Brothers. Lin Pictures, Langley Park Pictures producing.
I just covered this film a few weeks ago– based off of a fascinating series of articles from Paul Lieberman, it revolves around the famous task force of LA cops working to stop the mob from intruding onto their turf. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer is attached, and it’s one Warner Brothers has been shopping around to a ton of great directors, so there’s a lot of confidence int his one…
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY by David Posamentier & Geoff Moore
“A straight-laced pharmacist’s uneventful life spirals out of control when he starts an affair with a trophy wife customer who takes him on a joyride involving sex, drugs and possibly murder.”
AGENT International Creative Management – Adam Weinstein
MANAGER Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment – Aaron Kaplan, Sean Perrone
Occupant Films producing.
Another one we covered a couple of months ago, and a project that the increasingly busy Jeremy Renner is attached to. Renner’s schedule seems to change on a weekly basis, so who knows if his involvement has stuck after three months, but the story of a pharmacist who experiments with recreational drug-taking and adultery could be a good one (though I’m still not sure if it’s a black comedy, or straight drama).
THE BUTLER by Danny Strong
“The story of African-American White House butler Eugene Allen, who served eight United States presidents from 1952 to 1986.”
AGENT Creative Artists Agency – Risa Gertner, Maha Dakhil
MANAGER Gotham Group – Lindsay Williams
Sony. Laura Ziskin Productions producing.
This is a story Columbia pictures snapped up after Allen death earlier this year (at the ripe age of 90). It was under Ronald Reagan that Allen became maitre d’ at the White House, which is the most prestigious of butler positions. He was around the White House for the Little Rock desegregation crisis, as well as the JFK assassination- he even missed the funeral to which he was invited, so he could prepare food for the mourners when they returned. He met MLK JR, Duek Ellington, and Elvis Presley in his time, and I bet his life will make a wildly interesting story if told well.