How an underground script list changed movies

“AAHAHH!!!” Two questions. Number one. Why is Mel Gibson fighting a beaver puppet? Two. How did this movie get made? The Beaver is a 2011 dark comedy about depression. It is so pitch black dark it’s basically
a drama — with a talking beaver puppet. The movie was not a hit. It was a failed comeback attempt for Mel Gibson after anti-semitic tirades, DUIs, and allegations of abuse. But you can’t forget that this movie is
deeply, unflinchingly, weird. It got made at a time when the top ten movies at the box office were all parts of larger franchises. Jacob: “You guys… …really look great together.” How did this happen? “Allow me to briefly explain.” If you go to screenwriter Kyle Killen’s old Blogspot blog, there’s a clue. A post from December 11th, 2008 called
“Blacklisted.” That’s because in 2008, Kyle Killen landed on the top of “The Blacklist.” Since 2005, a survey called The Black List
has recorded the most liked, unproduced screenplays bouncing around Hollywood. Industry insiders submit their favorite unproduced screenplays, and then the anonymous votes are tallied and published. It’s that simple. But it’s quickly become a huge source of
buzz. And it’s based on scripts alone. And by looking at The Blacklist’s success,
you can learn something about how all these movies — from number one to number 216 — actually get made. When Franklin Leonard started his black list survey, he didn’t have a master plan. Just a big idea. Franklin: You have a much greater chance of making a great movie with a great script, than you do if you don’t have one.” So he started something in December 2005. “The Black Llist started as a…survey.
My job was I was working for Leonardo DiCaprio’s film production company.” “My job was to find great scripts.” “I felt like I was doing a very bad job at my job. I wanted to do a better job at my job.” “I sent an email to 75 of my peers and said send me a list of your 10 favorite screenplays that haven’t yet been produced, and in exchange I will send you the combined list.” “They all voted.” “And I put it all on an Excel spreadsheet.” “Ran a pivot table” “Output it to PowerPoint.” “Put a quasi subversive name on it: ‘The
Black List,’ was a reference to both the Hollywood blacklist of the McCarthy era.” “And sent it out.” “I think that the The Black List only could have come into existence at the time it did.” The first Black List went viral the same
weekend that Lazy Sunday went viral online — from Saturday Night Live.” “The way in which we consume information online and the way in which we share information online, that was, I think, the beginning of that moment where all those relationships and all of that that we were comfortable with in terms of sharing information, for better or for worse, started changing.” Suddenly, a list of great stories could show up in one place and be distributed around the world, thanks to the internet everywhere. That 2005 Black List included future hit movies like Juno. But to understand its real influence, you
have to go beyond the list. Let’s say getting a movie made requires a certain amount of buzz. Let’s make the metaphor really literal here. Take 2011’s top movie, Harry Potter And
the Deathly Hallows, Part II. It’s a franchise, last one was a hit, it
has huge stars — there’s no question about buzz. It gets made. Now imagine a movie like The Beaver. “I think it’s important to remember that, every year, there are something like 50,000 screenplays registered at the Writers Guild. Every year.” “If you are a particularly industrious reader, maybe you’ll read a thousand screenplays a year. So, obviously, there’s a gap of some 49,000 scripts. Just in that single year that are submitted to Hollywood generally— that you’re not going to read.” Now The Beaver was not plucked from nowhere. Kyle Killen had representation, and it had been picked up by a production company. Steve Carell was even attached before the
2008 Black List came out. But this movie was not Harry Potter. Winning the Black List made the buzz public and, at the same time, sustained that buzz through actor and director changes. It kept going until a movie about a talking
beaver puppet improbably, miraculously, actually got made. “We just say: send us a list of your favorite screenplays that haven’t yet been produced.” “You end up with a list that includes everyone from, Aaron Sorkin and David Benioff, and people who literally this is their first screenplay and they’ve just arrived in Hollywood or they’re still living outside of LA. Kyle Killen was not yet a Hollywood insider. But the Black List clearly helped his movie
keep buzzing. Dissecting hype is hard. Take 2012’s Argo. It got 28 votes on the 2010 Black List. It already had a reputation. It was based on a great 2007 Joshua Bearman Wired article, optioned by George Clooney. They got former CIA agent Tony Mendez involved. So it had energy. But the buzz kind of leveled off. Then after the 2010 Black List came out, Ben Affleck decided to direct. The Blacklist didn’t make Argo or Juno happen, but it got the scripts noticed. It didn’t singlehandedly greenlight the
hundreds of movies it’s featured. Some you’ve heard of. Some you haven’t. But it has amplified buzz that isn’t about big stars in amusement park ride adaptations, toy friendly sequels, or superhero franchises. It’s buzz about words. Stories. Today the Black List is a well-oiled machine, including its own podcasts, events, and online submission network. And it’s all focused on generating hype
about…writing. “I know when I am reading a good script
because the rest of the world ceases to exist…and and when you’re finished, you’re a little
sad because you don’t get to spend more time with those characters.” The Beaver was not a box office hit. It ended up in 216th place in 2011. The Rotten Tomatoes rating? 61%. Fine, but not great. In the beginning of The Beaver, there’s a scene where Mel Gibson is about to walk back to his car… and drive home. But then he stops. Mel sees something mangy and weird in the pile of trash. He pulls The Beaver out. And then? Everything changes.

100 thoughts on “How an underground script list changed movies

  1. This made me remember the original script for Passengers. It was said that it was a top contender on the blacklist with a different way the scenes were arranged and an even darker tone (it was more of a thriller than a romance). It was said that studio execs would produce the script IF he wrote the script for Prometheus. He got his wish in the end, but studio execs thought HEY LETS MAKE THIS A ROMANCE AND CHANGE THE INTENT AND TONE OF THE WHOLE GODDAMN SCREENPLAY! So basically getting your screenplay chosen from the blacklist is only half the battle, now you have to hope that the director and the studio respect your vision.

  2. I'm confused about the argument being made. So it's a list that contains a lot of movies, some are good, some are bad, but the one used as the main example is just kind of meh. I don't know that I've learned anything from this.

  3. You guys forgot to mention The Beaver was directed by Jodie Foster, who is a big name in the industry, and also a close friend of Mel Gibson, who, very likely, agreed to star in the movie for a considering smaller paycheck than usual.

  4. Doesn't this prove that the Blacklist is a good way to gin up interest but is not a good way to find the best screenplays?

  5. yet another vox video that raises a question, informs about the circumstances but doesn't quite answer it. so the beaver was on the blacklist. do all screenplays on the blacklist get turned into movies? why did so many people in the movie business put it high on the list?

  6. Yeah, but that's still 10,000 screenplays that don't get made. I suggest that the writer just films his own movie on a cheap camera. It couldn't be that different.

  7. I loved The Beaver! lol. I guess I'm one of the few. I loved its strangeness and the "wtf did I just watched" factor 🙂

  8. Funny how a channel that made a video titled "Why Rotten Tomatoes scores don't mean what they seem" references a RT rating for the subject of this video. This is either double standard at its best or Vox producers have no idea what gets published on their platform.

  9. Black List made me think of blacklisted or black market. The subversion is kind of cool.

    I really wish it had been Jim Carrey who had played the part. He probably would have made it whimsical yet serious, as he often has played out some of his parts.

  10. Isn't it weird that Kevin Spacey is now exiled from Hollywood while the anti-semitic, wife-beating Mel Gibson is continuing to star in movies?

  11. I wish more production studios would get together with fiction authors to produce some of my favorite series'. The Abhorsen series or the Keys to the Kingdom series would make for excellent movie adaptations with today's technology, though I fear that Garth Nix's Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series and Tamora Pierce's Magic Circle series would likely be too dark to get away with anything less than an R17 rating. They are all also individually too substantial to be remade in any reasonable length of movie series. I just adore the degree of world building that some of these authors put into their works.

  12. Rubbish! I liked the movie and understood the beaver was a symbolic character to show depression in all of it's many forms. The puppet beaver was suppose to be absurd and ridiculous which made the story line more disturbing and sad. Obviously the underage reviewer has never experienced a family member or friend suffer depression to get it. This reviewer needs to get out in the world and get life experience instead of watching movies all day!!

  13. The Black List system is gamed to hell and back these days. Big agencies coalesce behind the writers their lit departments want to push. It's too bad, it started as an awesome idea.

  14. I get the notion the ‘black’ shouldn’t mean bad. However at the same time, the term blacklist literally is a list that bans or harms you once you are on it. So while the motivation for changing the language and culture to make black a good thing is definitely a good thing, the execution here is poor. I think the main thing is that language reflects culture and not visa versa. If you want to change the language you must first change the culture. If you try to change the language without first changing the culture you will not succeed. Black is the colour of the dark, the colour of the night. So culturally it has become the colour of evil. If you wish to change this, making a blacklist good won’t do crap. But if you make black the colour of good and another colour like red or something bad, the next generation of kids will grow up wanting to be on a blacklist. Anywho thats just my opinion as a wannabe linguist.

  15. The Beaver and Lars and the Real Girl were both phenomenal comedies dealing with mental illnesses. Both should have been hits.

  16. The movie basically copied off of an episode of Ash vs the Evil Dead. Where Ash goes insane and has a puppet talking to him. He isn't free until he kills it

  17. Id assume that 'the beaver' is a dark reimagining of 'harvey'… Which I have always loved. I want to see it now, despite Mel Gibson.

  18. I didn’t understand the focus on a film that was a failure, when movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” or “Little Miss Sunshine” were great successes in the box office, for the public and for film critics. If a system like the Black List didn’t exist, these films would have never been produced.

  19. There should be a blacklist of independent filmmakers because the Hollywood aesthetic is partly to blame for the flop of movies such as The Beaver. I could have imagined the movie filmed partially with animation to really get us into his mind. Depression is after all a mind voyage. They could have done so much that was different from their usual cinematography, angles, music etc. But it got treated as if it were a standard script.
    Hollywood needs some fresh blood in there as soon as possible. Such a waste of good talent lies outside the norm.

  20. I remember watching The Beaver infront of our box tv when I was 6, some of the scenes changed my perspectives and made me learn new things and ask new questions I’ve never had before, “the Black List” is a kinda life changing list of films if you really dig deep into it. 🙂

  21. The editing in this movie is seizure-inducing. Give us more than 2 frames to understand what's happening on the screen, damn it. And you don't need 60 cuts from 15 cameras for a static monologue in an interview.

  22. 'The Beaver' is a beautiful movie, I think. I have nostalgic memories about it being insightful and intriguing. And it does bring through a good way of how we see depression coping.
    And I mean it's weird alright. But the weirdest part is Jennifer Laurence's acting, not the beaver concept lol

  23. I can't see how this failed. I'd much rather see a black comedy about depression and beaver puppets than Twilight.

  24. The BEAVER was DUMB AF, some movies shouldn't be made while other should but never are and the beaver isn't one of them.

  25. I have 2 watch that beaver movie never heard of it b4 watching this..all publicity is good publicity

  26. At 6:50 you can see that the beaver came above two lord of the rings movies so I’d say it wasn’t that bad.

  27. Shoot! I knew about that movie The Beaver from years ago but never got around to seeing it. I need to find it online.

  28. I recommend everyone acting this video is to watch the 16 minute video on the TED Talks channel that goes into further detail solely interviewing Franklin Leonard about the accidental blacklist and how he changed the ways movies get made. (Goes to show one person can truly change a business industry and the outcomes of those to get nominations and awards at the different areas. (Ultimately even changing people’s careers from new actors or writers to having a movie made and win awards, making the actors jump to be desirable for other roles as well as writers and others to be hired for future films. It didn’t just change movies being made but changed careers for actors and the behind the lens people on movies)

  29. 1:43 – The King's Speech and Django Unchained were in The Blacklist?! Duuuuuuuude…

    Also, The Hitman's Bodyguard too was part of this too – originally a serious drama before a drastic rewriting not long after Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson's casting was done

  30. Paused the video to watch Lazy Sunday again and came back 40min later after re-watching all Andy Samberg's songs again

  31. Just imagine in the future where people just post un-finished movies on to like YouTube or something and they get money off of ad revenue to complete the movie

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