Pipe Dream sat down with Kate Hagen, a writer and director of community at The Black List, where screenwriters can upload their screenplays and have them read and commented on by others. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: How did you get into your career?
Kate Hagen: So I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I always loved movies. In high school, I got really interested in journalism, so I started doing things like movie reviews for my high school paper and that kind of extended into me wanting to go to art school. So when it was time for me to go to college, I knew I wanted to go to Chicago and I really liked Columbia College after visiting, so I ended up there. I started doing the film program there and focused on screenwriting. Columbia has a really fantastic program called ‘Semester in LA’ where you can do the final semester of your schooling in Los Angeles, so I moved out in 2012 and I’ve been there ever since.
PD: What exactly is the Black List?
KH: The Black List started as an annual year-end list of the most unproduced screenplays in Hollywood — so movies like “Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech,” all came from the annual Black List. Then, in 2012, our founder Franklin Leonard decided to expand the company beyond that, so now we’re kind of a hub for screenwriters online and in Los Angeles, as well as around the world. We have a two-way script marketplace where anybody anywhere in the world with an English screenplay or pilot can upload their script to the website and get feedback from our readers and get feedback from industry professionals. We’ve had lots of folks find success in their writing careers that way. We do all kinds of events and community building for the screenwriting world too. So we do an event series called ‘Black List Live,’ where we do live script readings of scripts from the annual Black List and the Black List websites. We’ve had folks like Jon Hamm, Constance Wu [and] Alison Brie do those script readings. We do dinners for screenwriters occasionally, we host labs. We are just trying to be the connection for screenwriters since they are so often overlooked by the powers that be in Hollywood.
PD: What is your role at The Black List? How long have you been working there? Have you always been in this role?
KH: I’m the director of community, which means that I basically oversee the online community. I run all of our social media and, when we do post on Medium for the blog, I also write, edit and curate for the blog. I run all of our website partnerships with companies such as Google, Warner Bros. [and] Disney, and we are in the process of reviving the Black List Podcast, which I also co-host. This week, I will have been working there for five years. I was originally hired as customer service for the website, but the job kept evolving. I also do general press stuff for the company. Like, last week, I got to go to the Oscars and cover the press room as winners were coming off stage. I do filmmaker interviews and all sorts of community things.
PD: What is your talk centered around? How does it relate to your field?
KH: My talk is inspired by a piece I wrote last summer called “In Search of The Last Great Video Store.” It’s a love letter to video store culture and an assessment of the current streaming landscape and a look at all angles of the video store, conversations and the community aspect, the historical archival aspect and the person-to-person interaction video stores provide. It relates to my work in that The Black List is all about discovering talent and things that have been overlooked by the rest of the industry. What motivated me to write about video stores is that we just said goodbye to video stores without really any further consideration of what that actually meant, so I wanted to do a deeper dive on that.
PD: What do you want students to get out of your talk?
KH: I really want people to think about what we lost in getting rid of video stores, and I think it gets into some bigger ideas about this rush to move everything to the online space, to a digital space and what we’re losing in terms of person-to-person interaction, community spaces and just the physical experience of going to the video store, picking out movies, bringing them home and watching them and how different that is from just being like, ‘Ugh, I guess I’ll watch this on Netflix tonight.’