Once a year a document called The Black List is released.
Far from harkening back to Hollywood's darkest time (when suspected communists were blacklisted in the post World War II era), it is a list of what several hundred executives, assistants and other industry professionals collectively consider to be the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood.
An informal list that has taken on slightly formal connotations, it is a fascinating insight into the vast world of speculative screenwriting and script development, where the best ideas in the world can end up gathering dust for a variety of reasons.
Some scripts on the list are pure 'specs' - screenplays written without any contract in place in the hopes they will sell; others are contracted writing jobs by industry titans.
Some are scripts already in production. The only criteria is that the film hasn't been made. Yet.
The list was started in 2004 by an executive at Leonardo Dicaprio's production company Appian Way who wanted to express the collective opinion of all the Hollywood rank and file who spend their days reading dozens upon dozens of scripts.
Everyone who is surveyed ranks their favourite unproduced scripts, and the list is determined by collating those votes.
Scripts that have appeared near the top of the Black List in years gone by include Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network; Kyle Killen's The Beaver (which became that Jodie Foster/Mel Gibson trainwreck); Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Dante Harper's All You Need Is Kill, a high concept sci-fi action script which is currently in production with Tom Cruise in the lead.
Sometimes it brings attention to underappreciated scripts which helps get them produced, other times it reaffirms industry perception.
A few years ago, the top script on the list was Christopher Weekes' The Muppet Man, a biopic about Muppets creator Jim Henson which has yet to see the light of day.
The 2011 Black List was released last week and it makes for very interesting reading.
Topping the list this year with 133 votes was a script called The Imitation Game by Graham Moore.
It is described as follows: "The story of British WWII cryptographer Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code and later poisoned himself after being criminally prosecuted for being a homosexual"
There was a half-way decent British TV film about Alan Turing made in 1996, with Derek Jacobi as Turing, but it's not difficult to imagine this becoming a Oscar-leaning prestigious production starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman or something.
The No. 3 script with 59 votes is a peculiar-sounding project that would no doubt be a lot of fun, but it's difficult to picture it getting made: "A satirical behind the scenes look at the making of Star Wars through the eyes of Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca."
It's called Chewie. Nice.
Other scripts that lept out at me from this years list include: The Outsider by Andrew Baldwin: "In post World War II Japan, an American former prisoner-of-war rises in the yakuza". How great would it be to see Michael Mann make this with Michael Shannon in the lead?
In The Event of a Moon Disaster by Mike Jones, "An alternate telling of the historic Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon that examines what might have happened if the astronauts had crash landed there." It's an odd but irresistable concept.
The Slack Fi Project by Howard Overman: "A hapless and broken hearted barista is visited by two bad-ass soldiers from the future who tell him mankind is doomed, and he alone can save them." Just keep Simon Pegg and Nick Frost away from this.
Gaslight by Ian Fried: "Secretly imprisoned in a London insane asylum, the infamous Jack the Ripper helps Scotland Yard investigators solve a series of grisly murders whose victims all share one thing in common: dual puncture wounds to the neck". A bit derivative sure, but piqued my interest nonetheless.
You can see trends developing - there's more than one zombie script on this year's list; two films about Pinocchio and biopics on everyone from Grace Kelly to Walt Disney to Colin Powell.
There's always a bunch of high-concept romantic comedies on the list. This year's most painful one is called Flarsky and is described as: "A political journalist courts his old babysitter, who is now the United States secretary of state." Ugh.
What on this year's list jumped out at you? Do you enjoy becoming aware of projects at such an early stage? Or should we just wait until they're, you know, actual movies?
- Herald online