Mumbai: Franklin Leonard Talks Writer-Agent Standoff, Black List India Plans

Courtesy of Mumbai Film Festival
Franklin Leonard

"My contention has always been that the agent should be representing the best interests of the client and the client should have reasonable expectation that they are doing so," said the founder of the popular screenplay survey website at a Mumbai Film Festival master class.

Franklin Leonard, the founder of the popular screenplay survey website The Black List, shared his views on the ongoing standoff between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents. Leonard was addressing a master class at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival Tuesday where he gave an overview of how he founded The Black List and the opportunities and challenges faced by writers.

Over the past several months, writers and talent agents have settled into warring camps in a fight over television packaging fees and agencies’ move into affiliate production.

When asked by The Hollywood Reporter about his views on the ongoing negotiations between writers and agents, Leonard said, "My contention has always been that the agent should be representing the best interests of the client and the client should have reasonable expectation that they are doing so. And the only way you can do that is if you align the agent's compensation with the client's compensation. So until that gets resolved I don't think the WGA and the ATA are going to be working anytime soon."

He added: "I think The Black List is a replacement for a lot of that in the short term and when the writers and agents begin working together again, we function as a sort of a turbo charge of the agent's work."

Leonard also reflected on how the business has changed over the last 20 years since he first started working in Hollywood when "there were a few studios, a few independent financiers, four TV networks and a few cable TV networks. It was possible for an agent to know what every buyer wanted at any given point of time. Fast forward to 2019 and I don't even know how many cable networks [exist], multiple streaming services, too fewer studios, a bunch of indie financiers and all of those things [are] in various international territories who may be interested in different materials as well. Its actually not possible for an agent to know what every buyer on earth wants."

But he pointed out that "it is possible for the internet to do that because if people go searching for [any material] and find it, you can match people up. So the way The Black List works is that it allows people, no matter who they are in the industry, to say I am looking for an action movie set in India. Where is the script like that? And if one exists, we can point them to the writer and the agent and then the agent gets an incoming call about a script that a client wrote 15 years ago that they had forgotten existed, and everybody makes money."

He added: "So I think the way Google functions for the internet, I think we can function the same way for screenplays and content for Hollywood. I think we will always have a place in the business whether the writers and agents are working together or not."

Leonard is in Mumbai heading the festival's India Gold jury. As for The Black List's India plans, he said, "One of the reasons I am here is to meet Indian producers to talk about ways where we can work more closely with the Indian market, both to make films here but also to help people from here source talent from other places."

The Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives' favorite unproduced screenplays, was founded in 2005. Since then, more than 400 Black List scripts have been produced, grossing over $26 billion in box office worldwide. Black List movies have won 53 Academy Awards from 262 nominations including such titles as Argo, Slumdog Millionaire and The King's Speech, among others. Currently, The Black List hosts over 3,500 scripts for consideration by over 5,000 film industry professionals.