Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MovieSet: Inside the Black List

It started as an insider’s award, but The Black List has become more and more known to the rest of the world. It’s a rather uplifting concept. A team of film executives vote on their favorite unproduced screenplays that were read that year. They highlight the scripts based on quality not marketability which is a fresh change of pace.

The first year the list was made public was in 2005. The top three movies were Things We Lost in the Fire, Juno and Lars in the Real Girl. All three of those ended up being produced. The first film wasn’t a complete success. It only received a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and made 3.2 million dollars at the box office. The other two had much larger success. They were both nominated for Best Original Screenplay during the 2007 Oscars with Juno taking the prize. That movie also was a huge hit in theatres making $143 million while only costing $7.5 to make. Other prominent entires on the list include Charlie Wilson’s War, The Kite Runner, The Queen, Reservation Road, Babel, and The Prestige.

The top choices of 2006 were The Brigands of Rattleborge, State of Play and Rendition. The latter two opened to lukewarm reviews and very low box office despite their A-list casts (Russell Crowe, Reese Witherspoon respectfully). Brigands has yet to be produced but the script has been purchased by Warner Brothers. It is a very dark western about three men who terrorize a town during a thunderstorm. There larger successes but they were farther down the list. Seven Pounds, 500 Days of Summer, and Superbad all earned significant profits in its theatrical releases alone. The latter of the group ended up making over 100 million dollars beyond its budget.

The top three films on the 2007 list were less successful. They were Recount, Farragut North and Passengers. Only Recount has been produced and it never went to theatres. It was going to be a film made by acclaimed director Sydney Pollack, but he became incredibly sick and ended up dying shortly after. Jay Roach took over and made it into a TV movie for HBO. It ended up being a great movie that won several Emmys including Outstanding Made for Television Movie. The other two mentioned have yet to be made, but once again the scripts have sold. There are more on this year’s list that have been made. The Road was high up on the list as was This Side of the Truth, which was later, renamed to be The Invention of Lying. Further down the list are The Human Factor (Invictus), Adventureland and this year’s The Book of Eli. Surprisingly low on the list is Slumdog Millionaire, which ended up winning a ton of Oscars including Best Picture. This movie has always been the underdog because when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival it almost wasn’t going to get a theatrical distributor.

The films of the 2008 list are too recent to have been seen in theatres, but most are in production. The only ones that have been made are Inglourious Basterds, A Couple of Dicks (Cop Out), The Fourth Kind, and Up in the Air. Two of those ended up being nominated for screenplay Oscars. The first title on the list, The Beaver, was quickly brought into production because of its placing on The Black List. Jodie Foster is directing this Mel Gibson comedy about a man who has a beaver puppet and believes it’s a real animal. The next film The Oranges is currently being filmed (if we can believe IMDb) and has a great cast including Allison Janney, Catherine Keener, Hugh Laurie, and Oliver Platt. The third placement of the 2008 list is also in the middle of filming. Butter is the story of a girl competing in a butter carving contest in the Midwest. It will star Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Garner, Kristen Schaal and Alicia Silverstone. Other notable scripts on this list that have received a lot of buzz include Fuckbuddies, I’m With Cancer, and The F-Word.

A few months ago the latest incarnation was released with a few surprising titles. The top choice is a promising movie called The Muppet Man, which is a biopic about Jim Hensen. That has the potential to be really promising. The second title is a bit of a cheat because this was never in any danger of not getting made. It’s called The Social Network but it is more commonly referred to as “The Facebook Movie.” It’s an adaptation of the book by Ben Merzrich who wrote the book 21 was based off of. The screenplay is written by acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and has already been filmed with Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake in leading roles. David Fincher also directs it. There are currently no immediate plans to film The Voices a creepy sounding movie about a deranged man who hears his animals talk to him.

Aside from the ones already mentioned, there are a few more in the works. Everything Must Go is a film that will come out next year starring Will Ferrel and Rebecca Hall. It’s an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story about an alcoholic who loses his wife and job and decides to have a yard sale. The anticipated Water for Elephants will start filming in one week. This popular book club book will star Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz. However one of the coolest upcoming films (Black List or not) is Source Code, which is the next film by Duncan Jones. Jones wowed everyone with his first film Moon and this one is about a soldier who wakes up in another body. All of these movies will be out sometime in 2011.

Ultimately The Black List is a great resource. It’s one of the best ways smaller scripts can get national attention and interest. It may not mean instant financial success, but it draws the attention of a lot of talent actors. When you have specific actors interested and attached then producers feel safer putting more money into a wider distribution. That means they are easier to be seen. It’s not a perfect system, but it has lead to a lot of high quality movies and that’s a wonderful thing.

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