Hollywood's Black List

Planet Money


Every year, fifty thousand movie scripts Tele plays other pieces of writer Lee stuff get registered with the Writers Guild of America fifty thousand most of which sucks, but a handful of which will become the movies that change our lives today on the show how a math! Loving movie nerd used a spreadsheet and an anonymous hotmail address to solve one of Hollywood's most fundamental problems, picking winners from a sea of garbage, and he may just have reinvented the power structure of Hollywood along the way. Support for this podcast and the following message come from OCTA A leader in identity driven security as the world shifts to a more remote work approach. Your employees need to securely access all your company data as well as connected thousands of applications, OCTA does just that empowering your employees to work remotely while also working smart, keeping their data, APPS and identity secure from anywhere learn more at O., K., T. A. dot com slash NPR. We're only months away from election day and every week or even every few hours. There's a new twist that could affect who will win the White House to keep up with the latest tune into the NPR. Politics podcast every to find out what happened and what it means for the election. It's two thousand and five Franklin Leonard a junior executive at Leonardo. DiCaprio's production company which sounds glamorous, but arguably he is a glorified script reader. WHO's boss's boss? Is Leonardo DiCaprio. Franklin's job is to help that boss. Find The next great movie for Leo, which means he is constantly reading movie scripts. Every junior executive lives in constant fear of the trade story that breaks about some exciting new script that they didn't know about that. Their bosses like. Like why didn't you know about this? Franklin is supposed to know about everything which is tough because there's this famous old saying in Hollywood. Nobody knows anything as in. It's really hard to know what movies are going to work. So if you do find something any piece of information that can help you gauge. What might work that information? Franklin is learning. That is Hollywood gold one of the things that drilled into your head. Is that information? Information is the most valuable thing. Yeah, and that information is to be protected and kept in house and exploitation of that information is how we in power and leverage like what little information you can manage, and then if it's kind of good, put up a wall as quickly as possible. That's exactly right. Movie scripts are a kind of information like the fundamental piece of information for a movie, and so Franklin's job is go out into the world. World and find undiscovered scripts before anybody else finding those scripts, though amongst the thousands and thousands being written every year it's a bit like walking into like the largest bookstore in the world, and every book has the exact same color. There's no cover art. There's no like publishers weekly. There's no reviews available to you, but your job is to walk into that sort of hyper anonymous bookstore and come out with the best books available That seems impossible. And Franklin says you can see how a problem emerges quickly in Hollywood people deal with this overwhelming amount of information by assuming they should reach for the same shelves of that anonymous bookstores they always do. They assume they should make the same kinds of movies written by the same kinds of people starring the same kinds of people. Yes, we are generally talking about white men people you soon because this has been the case for you thus far that are white writer who went to Dartmouth is better than a black writer who went to? To Clark Atlanta or Spelman, the conventional wisdom that you assume as wisdom is more often than not convention, and that is especially true in Hollywood where the convention has been created by people who are in no way, shape or form representative of the audience and consumer that they are trying to sell to Franklin. decided it was going to be part of his job. Try and find scripts outside of the conventions, well of course, also keeping an eye open for the next conventional blockbuster, which yeah was gonNA mean lots more reading the normal. Look. I've always been bit of a grind. My Competitive Advantage was my capacity to work, and so every weekend I would take home a banker's box full of scripts, but literally twenty five thirty screenplays, and try to read them all every Saturday afternoon. There is Franklin sitting on his couch. It is black sweatpants flipping through page after page after page hoping he's about to read a life changing story imagine if Christmas was every Saturday, but every Saturday. You ran downstairs and opened the box that you're most excited about, and it was socks. Because there is the possibility of getting everything that you ever wanted yeah. But there is the probability that it's. Socks most Saturdays and Sundays go like this Franklin tears into his Christmas scripts seven hours later. Frankland sitting in a pile of socks and the worst thing is when he goes into the office on Monday. His boss says you read anything good. And Franklin has to say no. It was as if he didn't do any work that weekend. Because most scripts are so bad, the Franklin would be in trouble for recommending them, and even if he is lucky enough to find a scripted, he loves he's really got to think about whether. Whether it is the right kind of thing for Leo's company like there was a script going around that year about a guy dealing with his interpersonal trauma by buying and dating a sex doll. It's easy to imagine reading that in saying Oh this is a really well observed human story, but imagine going into your boss's office and saying you should read this and when they ask you what it's about saying. This is what it's about Leonardo DiCaprio. I think you should play this role where you date of a doll like that's. That's a tough sell for the most confident among us. Franklin's breaking point came late one night. Do you remember his? He was in the office. It was dark outside, and he was supposed to go on vacation, and he just kept thinking about how he was inevitably going to end up drowning in bad scripts on vacation, and all of that work would generate nothing of actual value for his job and I remember, looking up and thinking. I. Don't know that this is sustainable and I need to come up with a solution. How is there not a better system for finding good screenplays? If you do the Friends of friends method, you end up with the Friends of friends scripts, and if you try this brute force thing, you're going to ruin your weekends, Andrew Vacation, plus you would need fifty more Franklin's to see all of the script anyway. And that's when it dawns on Franklin. There are more than fifty Franklin's in Hollywood got on. My desktop fired up my calendar and went through and looked at every single person who had a job similar to mine. Who I had had breakfast lunch, dinner or drinks with. If you had eavesdropped on those breakfasts and drinks, Franklin says you would have heard the junior executives ask each other this same question. Have you read anything good lately? Yes, these junior. Our competitors and yes, information is power and companies would probably not be jazzed about them sharing that information, but you know these are low level producers. They're doing each other favors, and it's all off the record anyway. Who is going to know about this and so Franklin figures? Let's see if anyone's read anything good lately. He opens up an email and he BBC's about seventy. Five of his fellow junior exacts, and so know hey. Similar of your ten favorite scripts in exchange I will send you the combined. Responses back. Did you say who you were like? I am a I am a mysterious junior executive. Say anything else, I do not believe that I did. I created an anonymous hotmail address. I believe it was blacklist. Two thousand five at Hotmail DOT com, he called it the blacklist partly to honor the blacklisted writers during the McCarthy era, and partly because he always hated the idea that the word black gets used to mean bad, so this blacklist was going to mean great screenplays. People would respond, but surprisingly responses started coming back. Maybe these other junior executives felt as stuck as Franklin. Maybe it was just this information bargain was was a good deal. I sure transcripts I get a whole list back there around ninety responses and every time somebody mentioned the same script Franklin treated that like a vote for that script, and he starts logging all of this into spreadsheet. Twenty five people voted for things. We lost in the fire by Allan Loeb Twenty. Four people mentioned Juno by cody. Fifteen votes Larson the real girl by Nancy Oliver Fourteen votes, Lars and the real girl that is the script about the guy and the sex. If, you were a junior executive. Thinking this is good, but is this good? I'm not important enough to risk bringing this to my boss. The blacklist was a way of saying you were right. It was good and here is a number. Instead of just your instincts fourteen votes, only living boy in New, York, by Allan, Loeb Charlie Wilson's war by earned Sorkin, Fan Burke and by the way a big deal in two thousand five. This wasn't just about finding undiscovered writers. It was any script that was great and not made. In a script called peacock by riders named Michael Lender and Ryan Roy the top ten of the very first blacklist thubten of the very first blacklist. Point the blacklist was just a spreadsheet that only Franklin could see, and he's about to send it back to all those other junior executives who contributed and he looks at it for a moment all of this normally off the record insider Hollywood Intel now written in a single place. He takes a deep breath. And he hit send. And then he packs up and heads off for vacation in Mexico and about a weekend vacation I went to the hotel of business center to check my email on like the public computer. And this lists have been forwarded back to me several dozen times. and everyone's like Oh my word of this team. Come from a lot of descriptions of sister. Good. Where where did this come from? What's your? What's your thought? It was terrifying. My thought is is that my career in Hollywood has a clock on it and the doomsday clock has just sped up. This anonymous list of the best unmade screenplays was blowing up. It had gone way beyond the small circle. It was initially sent to it even ended up covered the industry press, and so Franklin kept his down. He stayed anonymous and one day. He gets this call from an agent. Saying that his client has written this amazing script. It's perfect for Leo. It's like the usual call, except then the agent says hey. Don't tell anybody, but I have it on good authority that this ripped is going to be the number one script on next year's blacklist. I immediately thought to myself. That's interesting because I made the blacklist and I'm not making another one because I. DON'T WANNA get run out of town on rails. But I'm fascinated that you think that the speculative notion of your client scripting on the list is a sales tool for you. That must mean that this list that I created has

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