Tech and Hollywood Don’t ask that often, but when it comes to Franklin Leonard, maybe you should.
Leonard is best known as the creator of the Blacklist, a curated collection of the most underrated scripts of the year. What started as a side project in 2005 is now a fully fledged hit machine. Four of the last 13 best picture winners came off the list. A total of 54 films from The Black List won Oscars and more than 300 were nominated. And, according to box office numbers, movies off the list are also generating more revenue.
In a conversation on our virtual TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 phase, Leonard explained the philosophy behind his efforts and why improving the work of developers is not a zero-sum game.
Open the gate
Hollywood and venture capital have both been slow to realize that finding overlooked talent benefits everyone ̵
“It’s in the industry’s best interest to find the people – to go into some sort of field full of haystacks and find the needles and see if we can do something with them,” said Leonard.
“It’s a problem-solving thing. The first problem was how to identify the good things in the industry. The second question was how do we identify the good scripts and the good writers around the world. “
According to Leonard, finding answers to these questions does not mean taking on the role of a gatekeeper. The black list does not identify undetected scripts and wall them off to reap the profits. Instead, it amplifies the good things that already exist and helps developers connect with the side of the industry that distributes resources.
“I think what I am most proud of is that we have been able to create an ecosystem in which we ask nothing more from the writers than the opportunity to share the good news about their good work” said Leonard.
“We don’t have our hands in our pockets, we’re not democratizing access to ourselves. We democratize access to everyone who makes a film and is interested in finding a good writer. You now have the option to work with them without a relationship with us if you don’t want one.
“This is the fundamental nature of our ethos and for me it is both an ethical approach and a business approach as I believe we will add value after making this decision, but I want to work with partners who believe we will add value that value and partner with us because we add that value – not because they owe us something. “
This perspective is ethically sound, but also robust from a market perspective. Leonard sees the blacklist as a tool that streamlines a process in which the existing system failed.
“I just firmly believe in tides that open up all boats and opportunities that have radical inefficiencies in the market. And to be clear, there are massive entertainment programs, ”said Leonard. He argues that the blacklist did not “disrupt” the industry, it changed it.
“… Disruption has this connection with winners and losers and in many ways everyone has the potential to blacklist win,” said Leonard. “Writers, industry professionals, the blacklist itself. And that’s because the market hasn’t operated anywhere near efficiency. “
Reversing the performance dynamics
While the tech industry has not yet fully dealt with the rising tide, the idea of possibilities for inefficiency is of central importance for the self-image of the tech industry. However, there are key differences between how something like the blacklisting benefits creators and how tech platforms have developed their own version of democratization.
“I think there is quite a bit of ego. We are building the platform and these people are using and using it and we did this amazing thing by giving them the platform but what could they possibly have to tell us about our business? And you know I think it’s just a mistake I think you know pride always comes before the fall. Said Leonard.
But even as social media companies turned traditional industries upside down, they have retained the economics of focusing wealth and power at the top. In Leonard’s view, the people below do most of the work, and some above extract disproportionate value from their work. “I don’t think that’s an optimal model,” said Leonard.
“You see, if you’re running an important platform and you’re looking around your boardroom, looking around your executive meetings and not seeing people who look like the world, you really have two options. You can either find out quickly, or you can keep doing exactly what you do … and someone will replace you, either because you have been laid off or because another company is taking over your market share. “
On a sufficiently long timeline, Leonard believes that the power imbalance will improve on its own because the people who create the content drive the platforms that inspire the trends – ultimately wielding real power.
“If you don’t listen to us, we’ll take our talent to Miami – to use a basketball analogy – and build our own thing. And we will come back with a lot more strength, ”said Leonard. “We will then win a championship and dictate conditions to you.
“I have a lot of faith, not because I think people will get it and change their behavior, but because if they don’t, they will be beaten. I know the talent there is to beat, and suffice it to say it is coming. “