Franklin Leonard Interview: The Black List CEO Talks Creation

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“There would be no Black List if I hadn’t worked as a management consultant,” Franklin Leonard asserts. Founder and CEO of Hollywood’s acclaimed The Black List, Franklin is that rare combination of business and creative—nerding out about Excel as well as scripts. With a unique aspiration to equalize the playing field for screenwriters, his Black List has enabled hundreds of un-produced screenplays to end up not only discovered, but fully realized on screen.

Image Source: The Black List

Widely respected in Hollywood, The Black List is an annual survey of the “most liked” motion picture screenplays not yet produced, as voted on by hundreds of development executives. According to Franklin, it’s an “eHarmony” for scripts, where “moviemakers find great screenplays to make, and screenplays find moviemakers to make them.”

The result is that 302 of the 987 screenplays on The Black List have been produced and released theatrically, grossing over $24.87 billion. These films have been nominated for 223 Academy Awards (winning 43) and 197 Golden Globe Awards (winning 40). Popular films include American Hustle, Juno, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo.

Image Source: Podcast Movement

A self-described “massive nerd,” Franklin grew up in Georgia with extracurricular activities of reading, studying, and captaining his math team. A Harvard magna cum laude graduate, he attributes his intellectual development to having no high school social life and not being allowed to watch TV or movies or read comic books growing up. Instead, he read. Later becoming obsessed with film and TV, Franklin ironically jokes, “My career is my great revenge on my parents.” When his parents finally allowed him to watch TV, he loved Star Trek: Deep Space 9—particularly admiring that the commander, played by Avery Brooks, was black.

“In English class, we discussed imagery in a book where a cowboy with a black hat meant he’s a bad guy, and a cowboy with a white hat meant he’s a good guy,” Franklin recalls. “As a black person, I didn’t like the color symbolism—that white is pure and virginal and black is soiled and bad; I wanted to find a way to invert that. At the time, I thought, ‘Someday I’ll write a novel to reverse it.'” The Black List is named as a nod to his African American heritage and to writers who were barred during the McCarthy era. “I didn’t think the Black List would become a thing; it was more of a joke for myself,” Franklin explains.

On his way to creating the Black List, Franklin worked at 8 companies in 12 years, enabling him to see an array of business practices. From management consulting at McKinsey to working a series of production jobs for respected professionals including Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, and Sydney Pollack. In order to have the impact he wanted on the world, Franklin eventually bet on himself to create his own company.

Defining company culture is important to him; he aims to have his team members feel empowered, that their opinions matter, that they have flexibility, and that their work has substance. Though a workaholic, Franklin believes, “If you create a work environment that’s more enjoyable, people work harder and the result will be better.”

Franklin and his miniature poodle, Nick.

Image Source: Franklin Leonard

Besides film, Franklin geeks out about soccer, politics, and data. He wakes up at 5am to watch soccer games in England, and he recently live-tweeted both Republican debates. He also has an adorable 5-year-old apricot miniature poodle named Nick.

Stay tuned next week for our follow-up article on Franklin’s new developments with The Black List and advice to the community.

Follow Franklin:
Twitter: @franklinleonard & @theblcklst
Instagram: @franklinjleonard & @theblcklst

Featured Image Source:  Franklin Leonard’s Twitter

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