After spending five years advocating for the best unproduced screenplays with The Black List, Franklin Leonard has taken a leap to become a moneyed backer who can now turn those gems-on-paper into feature films.
In April, Leonard, a former development exec for companies including Appian Way and Overbrook, struck a multi-year partnership with China-based Meridian Entertainment to turn three to five of his screenplay finds into English language films each year for budgets of $15 million and under. After watching more than 325 scripts that made The Black List go into production, he now has the chance to become a content creator. Leonard becomes part of the disruptive crowd, and has a perspective on how the changing landscape is affecting screenwriters.
Three things, he says, are having the most dominant impact. First, the consolidation of the core studio business into franchise-led filmmaking. Which has led to the second: “That has empowered the independent business too, alongside the reduction in production costs and, increasingly, distribution costs.”
Finally, the “welcoming arms” of the television industry are also embracing writers like never before. “It has shifted a lot of writers out of film and into television, where they have more authorship and control. They make more money in success, and the jobs last longer.”
Leonard believes timing figured prominently in the early days of The Black List. “I am not sure it would have meant as much before the reliance on email and the sharing of information. It would have been a lot harder to call people, ask for their 10 favorite unproduced screenplays, and then find a way to distribute it.”
And it’s timing again, he says, that made the deal with Meridian possible, where it might not have been five years ago. “One of the upsides of the shifting landscape is that content creation opportunities have become easier to monetize. It was nice after all these years to see Meridian make a commitment like this to quality screenplays, not only for English-language films but also Chinese-language films. It also coincides with the first quarter when Chinese box office exceeded US box office.”
The world will keep changing. “But what has never changed is the reliance on quality writing for successful movies and television shows.”