On Monday, Hollywood insiders loaded a low-key website with an astonishingly long URL and found themselves looking at the 2016 Hollywood Black List.
This year’s selections of the most appreciated unproduced screenplays, ranging from star vehicles to biopics (sometimes in the same manuscript) were preceded by a quote from the late Alan Rickman about being “governed by idiots.” It got much more corporate from there, however, with most of the 2016 list lead by Oscar-nominated titans, Pixar factory slaves (a.k.a. highly-paid, highly-valued, highly-talented masters of the form) and the creator of network TV’s most buzzy show of the year. So, where, in the most respectful fuck, are the unknown screenwriters?
The Black List was created 11 fall TV seasons ago by Franklin Leonard, a development exec with Appian Way, who thought of two disenfranchised groups: African-Americans in the studio system (including himself) and the victimized members of the 1950s blacklist. It was, of course, ostensibly meant to publicize Tinseltown’s unsung literary heroes, but as the Los Angeles Times noted in a retrospective 2014 piece, Leonard “wasn’t looking to upend the system. He just wanted some good vacation reading.”
And herein lies the problem with the Black List itself.
While screenwriters think it’s their free ticket to getting traction from studios, a kind of competitive lottery with the winners breaking through a system that otherwise blocks outsider access, scripts only end up there if they’ve already been passed on or are already in production anyway.
That brings up the silliest part of the list—just skimming Variety’s and Deadline’s analysis of this year’s selections shows a laughably established slate of top scribes and films already heading to pre-production. (It’s kind of like Sundance—it’s supposed to be for indie filmmakers with no-name casts, but in recent years, its slate has really been overtaken by multimillion-dollar “low-budget indies” with A-list actors slumming it for the cred.)
Right off the bat, Variety notes that the screenplay with the most votes for inclusion on the 2016 Black List was Blond Ambition, which “is set up with Brett Ratner’s Ratpac and Michael De Luca.” Meaning, it’s already been discovered by Hollywood—and accepted, so far.
The rest of the 73 spec manuscripts aren’t much more heartening for budding scripters. Dan Fogelman, known for Cars and Tangled, has two shows on network TV (This Is Us and Pitch), yet here he is on the list in second place for Life Itself—if he’s here, what hope is there for the rest of us schlubs, who have one or fewer hit NBC shows on air? Even The Post, Liz Hannah’s captivating entry about the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post, is inching toward production, with infamous ex-Sony emailer Amy Pascal producing.
There’s a Margot Robbie vehicle (I, Tonya, with Robbie brilliantly cast as Tonya Harding), a new script from Oscar nominee Dan Gilroy (who wrote The Bourne Legacy, Kong: Skull Island and more), as well as Mindy Kaling, who shows that even actual stars can’t get their scripts produced in Hollywood.
One bright spot on the list is Mike Makowsky, who miraculously has two entries, even though he’s never had a feature film produced before. His newest film, which IMDB lists as being in pre-production, apparently stars Peter Dinklage, who announced the Blacklist mention in a Twitter post. You can choose to see this piece of news as disappointing or… focus on the fact that Makwosky has only made a couple of shorts before this and be happy for him.
Most interesting of all this is that Graham Moore—yes, the guy who won an Academy Award for The Imitation Game, also the top script of the 2014 Black List—has a script on the list. The Last Days of Night is apparently a drama about the Edison and Westinghouse rivalry, but since Eddie Redmayne is attached to star, Moore must feel pretty confident that his film will get made—and soon.
I’ll leave you with this caveat: that original 2005 Black List included scripts for Babel, Blades of Glory, Charlie Wilson’s War, Death at a Funeral, Ender’s Game, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Dream House, Factory Girl, Fur, Freedomland, Get Low, Hall Pass, Hancock, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Lars and the Real Girl, Little Children, Lucky Number Slevin, Nebraska… and many more films which were all eventually produced. So, if you can get on the Black List, it means you have a very, very good chance of seeing your film produced.