The Black List and Meridian Entertainment have formed a multi-year partnership aimed to empower the screenplay advocacy service founded by Franklin Leonard. Their purpose is to produce and finance at least three to five English language films each year. Films $15M budget or less will be financed by Meridian, but they are also open to co-financing arrangements as well.
The Black List was known for championing well-written scripts and are now becoming active factors into transforming them into feature films. Meridian develops and finances TV/film projects in the Chinese market and is the controlling majority owner of United Entertainment Partners, one of the largest film distributors in China. This will be the company’s third partnership with a U.S. film venture, following one with James Schamus’s Symbolic Exchange and another with Jason Blum’s Blumhouse. United Entertainment is run by chairman and former journalist Jennifer Dong and may be known by the wildly successful Wolf Warrior 2.
James Schamus has been guiding Meridian into the independent space and has said it’s because of his nostalgia for indie origins, when he recalls making no-budget films with emerging filmmakers like Ang Lee. He approached Leonard at Sundance several years ago about connecting Meridian into Black List’s ongoing search for overlooked magnificent screenplays and turning them into low budget indies Meridian could finance. The current deal derived from those original talks.
Since The Black List’s inception, more than 325 Black List scripts have been produced, resulting in a long list of big grosses and accolades.
Leonard began his career as a development executive at production companies that included John Goldwyn, Appian Way, Mirage, and Overbrook Entertainment. During that time, he created the Black List as a survey in which he and other development executives identified their favorite scripts.
Since 2012, Leonard’s ultimate focus has been on building the Black List into a branded enterprise, he told Deadline:
“This all started under the idea that screenwriting is a profoundly undervalued component of what makes a movie great. Now, instead of simply telling Hollywood a script is great, it’s even better to be in a position to say to the writers, we have the money to help you make the movie. If they’re not interested, so be it. We want to be an asset and an additive thing for all these projects and we thought the best way to do that was to actually bring money to the table that could actually get some of these movies made.”
How will the production deal intermingle with the script-finding services of Black List?
“”We will continue to run labs for screenwriters we find through the website, and continue the annual survey exactly the way we’ve done it in the past, and nobody owes us anything. We are not going to be limited to scripts that are on the annual survey, nor are we going to be limited to scripts on the website. We are looking for great screenplays, period. We are constantly evaluating completed scripts. When we find something exciting that we believe could be viable for our business parameters — which means budgets under $15 million roughly — we’ll show it to Meridian and if they share our excitement, we will reach out. If it’s a writer with no producer, director or talent attachments, we’ll work with them to find producers and talent who can carry the film off. We’ll finance it alongside that. If there’s already a team around the writer and the script, we’ll assess their needs and if we can meet them, they will be able to go off and make the movie. We’re not going to be the kind of producer/financier telling people to make changes in the second act of their script. We’re going to be the ones trying to provide the artist what they need in order to make their movie. Certainly, I will have opinions, but those notes will be offered not as directives of what people have to do in order to get the money.”
Leonard stresses the annual list and paid services Black List provides will not be used to producing opportunities. This has changed because of Schamus and Meridian, whose chairmain stated this was an opportunity for the Chinese company to take a further step into the independent pond.
“Meridian strives to make films that not only bring artistic and commercial achievements but also move and inspire the audiences,” Jennifer Dong told Deadline via e-mail. “Our partnership with the Black List provides an excellent cradle for such projects to come. We like to work with writers and filmmakers that share the same aspirations as us in telling stories that’d make a difference in the world. The scripts that came out of the Black List platform have been made into films that created much impacts on the history of filmmaking and influences over the audiences all across the globe. We are proud to contribute our strengths and power to bring more Black Listed scripts to the screen.”