Monday, November 4, 2013

Franklin Leonard answers some questions about the Black List's Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship

You might have seen last week's announcement that The Black List has teamed up with producer Cassian Elwes (LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, ALL IS LOST, AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS) to create the Cassian Elwes Independent Screenwriting Fellowship, wherein one unrepresented writer with lifetime earnings not exceeding $5,000 with a screenplay of indie sensibility will receive an all-expense paid trip to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and mentorship from Elwes himself.

Writers with scripts on the Black List or who have had scripts on the site since their October 15, 2012 launch will be able to opt into consideration for the opportunity until December 1, at which time a short list of writers will be shared with Elwes who will decide on one writer to make the trip. The Black List and Elwes plan to award the fellowship annually.

Black List creator Franklin Leonard was generous enough to take some time to answer a few questions I felt some writers considering the fellowship might be curious about.

How did Cassian Elwes come to be involved with The Black List?

Cassian came to us and said that he wanted to do something to support writers from outside the system who are writing scripts with an independent spirit, folks who were writing for the love of storytelling and not in the hopes of making a massive spec sale to the studio. We were honored by the outreach, and it was easy to find a way to do something from there.

So tell me about what I have to do to get Cassian Elwes to pick my script. Do I have to pay to host my script from now until the deadline? Do I need to buy an evaluation from you in order to qualify?  If so, do I stand a chance if my evaluation comes back lower than an 8?

You have to do two things: 1. Have your script hosted on the site for at least one week before 12/1. 2. Opt into consideration for the opportunity via the site. You don't have to buy an evaluation in order to qualify, but we will be basing our decisions on the short list on the data that we have about the scripts and buying an evaluation is the easiest way to create some data and catalyze others viewing, downloading, and rating a script.

I want to mention to that all of the data we've gathered to date will matter. So if you had a script hosted on the site in October and rehost it before the deadline, all of the evaluations, ratings, downloads, etc. that that script has ever accrued will still be incorporated into our decisions.

Each evaluation (and each rating for that matter) is just one person's opinion on a script. One low rating (or one below 8 rating) doesn't make it impossible to get selected, but obviously a script with multiple high scores is more likely to be selected than one with multiple low scores.

We're told "a short list of writers will be shared with Elwes" on December 1. Has Mr. Elwes given you any direction as to what sorts of scripts he's most interested in?  Do I stand a better chance of making the list if my script reads like a prestige drama like THE BUTLER or ALL IS LOST?

We'll be sharing 10 scripts with Cassian that are highly evaluated and bear the marks of an independent spirit based on their genre, logline, and likely budget specs.

I'll let Cassian handle the question about how he'll be making his decision from the 10 script short list.

Are there any prizes for the runner-ups?  Will the rest of the short list be publicized as a way of making them known to the screenwriting community?

TBD, but in all probability, we will share the short list after the Fellow has been selected. It's also important that people don't think of this as a contest or a prize. The Black List is an ongoing platform, and Cassian is essentially identifying an individual on that platform for a fellowship. It will be conducted in an ongoing way. This is just the first year.

What if the winning script is written by a writing team? Will both their trips and expenses be covered?

Expenses will be covered up to $5K. If it's a writing team, we'll do our best to make arrangements.

And while I've got you, I'm sure my readers would love to hear any figures you have on the Black List's first year of operation.  For instance, how many writers got representation as a result of putting their work on the site, at least that you know of?

We know of between 40 and 50 signings at major agencies and management companies through our first year. About two dozens sales and options. One of those from Ireland and another two from Sweden. Richard Cordiner has a two script blind deal at Warner Bros. Pictures, and there's one produced movie, NIGHTINGALE, starring David Oyelowo.

Have submission levels remained rather steady over the course of the year?  Has the participation met your expectations for the first year of activity?

With the exception of the inevitable initial burst of submissions during the first month, submissions have been climbing steadily since we launched.  As for expectations, if you had told me that we'd have more scripts submitted in our first year than any screenwriting competition has ever reported in a single year (including the Nicholl) I would have hoped you were right and thought you were crazy.

That's what happened though.

Another quick thing, the launch of episodic content (TV, webseries) is imminent. Definitely by the end of the month.

Come back tomorrow for Cassian Elwes himself answering questions and giving a little more detail about his hopes for the fellowship!


  1. Gotta say I'm so totally over all these 'competitions.' They just seem to be cash grabs by organizers who hope to make money off starry eyed dreamers.

  2. Franklin Leonard is a charlatan who is making money off of hopeful screenwriters with no other way in. Why does the Bitter Script Reader continue to support this dude and this rip off site? Is he paying you?

    1. Candy Cane, I support the site because I genuinely believe it is only of the only valuable "break in to Hollywood" programs out there and the integrity of the people behind it is above reproach. I've been in the industry for more than ten years, and I can tell you there are few, if any, people in this business more above board than Franklin Leonard. I have no problem calling out worthless sites and so you can be assured that I don't hand out endorsements lightly. And no, I am not, nor have I ever been in the employment of Franklin Leonard or The Black List.