Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Five questions with Cassian Elwes about the Black List Fellowship

Continuing from yesterday's post, Cassian Elwes was nice enough to answer a few questions about the Fellowship he's created with the Black List.

My first question: Why the Black List? What makes Franklin Leonard's site an attractive partner for a producer who has four films being circled by Oscar buzz this year alone?

I love what the Black List is about - identifying material that should be made into films and hasn't yet for one reason or another. In a way it energizes the people involved to actually get their movie made and also helps highlight their project to people looking for things to finance. We're trying to take that notion and put brand new writers in front of 'Hollywood. ' I know there are new voices out there looking for as way in and the Black List is a proven entry point

The Black List is going to send you ten scripts. I'm sure every writer wants to know "Will Cassian Elwes read my script in its entirety?" Do these go straight to you, or will you have one of your development people do coverage on them as a way of culling that ten down to a smaller number first?

I'm absolutely going to read the 10 scripts myself. I love finding great scripts. Anyone who knows me pretty well knows when I find something I like I'm relentless in seeing it get made. I'm not committing to finance the movie of the winner but chances are good that I will.

How much direction does the Black List team have as to what sort of material you might be looking for? Obviously the first prerequisite is that the writing be strong, but is it worth submitting if the writer doesn't have a period piece or a prestige adult drama? Is there a scenario where you might end up attached to, say, a high-concept script like THE TRUMAN SHOW?

It really doesn't matter what the script is about or what genre it is. A good script is a good script if I can see the movie in my head and it's a movie I want to see. If you look through my work I've done almost every kind of movie there is.

The purpose of the Fellowship is, in part, to allow a young writer to be mentored by you. Could this mean you might use the winning submission as a writing sample and attempt to develop a new property with the writer, or is your intent to select a script that you can guide and develop?

I'm looking for scripts that could be great independent movies. I want material that directors and stars would jump at so no, it's not about development, it's about production

What exactly does mentoring from Cassian Elwes entail? Is it analogous to a writer working with you on development of a script, or do you foresee more frequent, hands-on interaction with the writer?

I'm really hoping that I get to mentor someone who I can help guide to a long career and that I can have a long term professional relationship with. I know I have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge, relationships and access to financing. I envision this fellowship generating great movies which is what I'm all about.


  1. I think this fellowship is an excellent idea. :-)

  2. At risk of coming off cynical, what are the odds of anything eventuating from this? These days it seems like every would be screenwriter I ever met has at least one contest win under his or her belt but none of them have gained anything worthwhile from that.

    Are there any contests or fellowships that guarantee a production as the prize? By guarantee I mean have a binding legal agreement with a studio or big production co to actually produce a movie from the winner's script. That could be worth the effort although I suspect the entry fee would be pretty high! :-)

    1. Not all contests are created - or regarded - equally. You can probably find a couple hundred screenwriting contests during a trip to Without a Box, but when it comes to contests that actually mean something to people in the industry, you wouldn't need both hands to count them all. You might want to check out my videos on Contests and Fellowships for advice on how to separate the good ones from the bad.

      The Black List happens to be one of the more respected institutions. Honestly, the fees to host and have your script read there are little more than the cost of entering some of the lesser contests. I've seen a lot of contests over the years and I can quite honestly say I've never seen anything like the Black List. The fees are reasonable and in the first year, about 50 people (that they know of) have signed with agencies. That's almost one a week.

      You're never going to see a contest guarantee production as the prize. I guess Project Greenlight was based on that model, and the fact that the competition didn't make it past three cycles probably speaks for itself. Even then, by the third film, the creators were forced to look for more genre-based films and ended up going into production on a script that - frankly - wasn't all that remarkable.

      The reality is that most spec sales don't even come with production guarantees. It's best to take contests for what they are - opportunities to get your work in front of representation and producers in the hopes of developing relationships with them that could lead to future work.

    2. Hi and thank you for your insight on this.

      I guess I'm feeling pretty jaded after seeing all the things out there seemingly designed only to part hopefuls from their cash via empty promises......especially when most everyone I've ever met in the biz has told me the only way to get anywhere in it is by cutting out the all the middle men and somehow getting your work directly to the producers.

      That seems to be easier said than done when you don't have an agent! I don't have one but did get lucky and got scripts to producers a couple times just through having contacts although it never went anywhere. It must be pretty near impossible for people with no agent and no contacts. No wonder they are prone to enter every contest around promising or offering great things.

      If there's one major issue I have with them all is the total lack of transparency. I don't know who is reading my scripts. Who is doing the grading? Who is the person or people who tell me my stuff is great or terrible? What do they do, what have they done? Maybe they are at the top of their game, but for all I know they could be some film school student. That makes it tough to swallow the promises or any criticism. But yes I'll accept the praise! :-)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mister Bitter Script Reader.