Hollywood "Black List" pushing Oscar-worthy scripts to spotlight


The 87th annual Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday morning. Some of the potential major nominees have scripts that were once on a so-called "Black List." They include "The Imitation Game," "American Sniper," and "Foxcatcher."

The list with a name synonymous with a dark period in American history now stands as a symbol of Hollywood's hidden treasures, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Franklin Leonard founded The Black List nine years ago as a way to empower screenwriters. He was working for Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, but wasn't finding many good scripts to recommend to his bosses. So he asked his peers to send him up to ten of their favorite scripts, then tallied the results. Now, 250 executives at major studios and production companies vote anonymously on the annual Black List.

"The idea was to create a blacklist that people wanted to be on, and the notion of that word becoming a positive thing," Leonard said.

It has included everything from Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network" to Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." But most of the work on the list is by unknown screenwriters looking for their big break. That's what happened to Diablo Cody when her screenplay for "Juno" was second on the list in 2005.

"I think the list and the website draw attention to great work," Leonard said. "And I think, because we've become a reliable arbiter of taste, it means that if we say 'Hey, this is something you should pay attention to,' a lot of people in Hollywood will pay attention to it."

In the past decade, 1,040 scripts have made the list and 270 of them have been produced. They have received 197 Oscar nominations, and three of the past six Best Picture winners were on The Black List.

Ben Affleck, who directed "Argo," discovered the script on The Black List, and it's how Meryl Streep found out about her film "Hope Springs," as she told Charlie Rose in 2012.

"There is this list I gather that travels around through all the offices in Hollywood, and everybody knows about it -- it's The Black List," Streep said.

The thriller "The Imitation Game" is considered a contender for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay this year. It was the No. 1 script on The Black List in 2011. Graham Moore wrote it.

"We'd try to go around town and pitch it to people. We'd say, 'Hey we have this film about a gay, English mathematician in the 1940s.' And you can imagine a lot of sort of Hollywood entities and organizations are not inclined to make movies about subject matters that are that difficult," Moore said. "But when you have that conversation again and you say 'Oh, and it was number one on The Black List,' it's, 'Oh, okay. I'll read it.'"

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch had already read the script for "The Imitation Game" because it was on The Black List before he was approached to play the role of British code breaker Alan Turing.

"Graham's script hooked me in from page one, really. The introduction to this character -- he's utterly unapologetic, no vanity about him," Cumberbatch said. "The edges are all there, the sort of slight eccentricities, but also the humor, the heart, the sort of -- the thing that makes you lean in a little bit."

Franklin Leonard said everyone's goal is to find a great script that can be turned into a great movie.

"I think what we try to do is make it a much easier process in finding that great material," Leonard said.

It's that great material that often finds its way to the big screen thanks to a big boost from the one blacklist it's good to be on.