The annual selection of the most promising production-ready screenplays has helped launch projects from Cathy Yan, Chloé Zhao, and Ash Mayfair
New York University’s Purple List—an annual selection of the best production-ready screenplays from Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni—announces its picks for 2020, along with two new industry partnerships that will further support compelling projects created by some of the industry’s best rising talent. The screenplay initiative is now in its ninth year and was inspired by Franklin Leonard’s Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives' favorite unproduced screenplays.
The 2020 selections include Hound by Lisa Duva, a horror-comedy featuring a female werewolf protagonist; Lake by Anthony Saxe, a character-driven narrative exploring male friendship and addiction; Mustache by Imran J. Khan, a coming of age story following an eccentric fourteen-year-old boy from a conservative Pakistani-American household adapting to public school in California; and Skin of Youth by Ash Mayfair, focusing on the turbulent romance between a transgender sex worker and a Saigon cage fighter in 1998.
The four screenplays were handpicked by a panel of 65 industry judges through a blind read process and continue the Purple List’s long tradition of helping bring diverse stories and voices into the mainstream. Previous Purple List selections include Dead Pigs by Cathy Yan and Songs My Brother Taught Me by Chloé Zhao. Yan and Zhao are directing two of 2020’s biggest superhero movies, Birds of Prey and Eternals, respectively. This is Ash Mayfair’s second time on the Purple List; her critically-acclaimed debut feature, The Third Wife, was a selection in 2015. Yomeddine by Abu Bakr Shawky, the first Egyptian film to be included in the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition, Noah Land by Cenk Erturk, which won Best Screenplay at Tribeca Film Festival; and Eyimofe (This is My Desire) by Chuko Esiri, which recently screened at Berlinale 2020, are all Purple List selections.
In the spirit of championing diverse voices and fresh storytelling, this year the Purple List has also partnered with Breaking Through the Lens (BTTL), an initiative that promotes emerging female directors by selecting projects to be pitched to financiers and key industry people during the Cannes Film Festival (postponed for 2020) and Buffalo8, a full-service media company based in Santa Monica, California. The Black List, the famed annual Hollywood survey that inspired the Purple List, is also a partner.
BTTL is serving as an additional pipeline for Purple List-winning female directors to connect with industry players who can help bring their scripts to the screen. This year, BTTL received over 200 submissions from 54 countries—five Purple List screenplays made the shortlist of 20 titles and three made the final list of ten. The filmmakers on the final list will have the opportunity to pitch their projects at the next BTTL event.
“To see such a high number of NYU Purple List submissions in our selection is a real testament to the quality of their curation process. Each of the Purple List projects was developed to such a high level and, in the end, three made our final 10 list. The NYU Purple List is a perfect stepping stone to help female directors raise finance and get their outstanding films off the ground,” said Emily Carlton, founder of Breaking Through the Lens.
Buffalo 8 is offering the winning screenplays a professional shooting schedule, a budget, and a project review for both market analysis and financial consideration. The project review will help Buffalo 8 determine if they can help the filmmakers in other ways including financing, post-production, and packaging.
“We’re excited to join forces with the NYU Purple List to support both diverse and emerging voices,” noted Buffalo 8 CEO Matthew Helderman. “We’ve been able to produce and premiere projects in Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and the Toronto Film Festival from first time emerging filmmakers - and the Purple List should offer new opportunities to continue discovering such talent” Helderman continued.
Franklin Leonard’s The Black List is a longtime supporter of the Purple List, offering the winning scripts special promotion to their members and free industry evaluations.
“The success of the scripts and filmmakers from NYU's Purple List speak for themselves, and it's an absolute pleasure to throw a bit of accelerant on the fire by amplifying their visibility free of charge via the Black List website," said Black List founder Franklin Leonard. "The only better feeling is supporting those filmmakers by buying tickets to their movies, which will come in no time if Cathy Yan and Chloe Zhao's trajectories are anything to base it on."
“These are four beautifully crafted screenplays that captivated our industry judges, who are seeking fresh stories and were so excited to meet the filmmakers behind the scripts. The Grad Film program has a reputation for cultivating individual and diverse voices that define the film marketplace, rather than the other way around, and when you look at our graduates, it’s clear they’re shaping the future of American and world cinema,” said John Tintori, Purple List faculty advisor and associate arts professor at NYU Tisch.
Twenty-five of the 41 screenwriters from the nine editions of the Purple List are women; 22 are from black, Asian, or other minority ethnic backgrounds; and seven identify as LGBTQ or have LGBTQ themes in the screenplay. Recent studies from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative show that Hollywood is taking steps to tell more inclusive stories and that for the first time in over a decade, there has been an increase in the number and percentage of women working as directors on some of Hollywood’s biggest feature films.
Roughly 60 percent of Purple List projects selected through the blind read process are female-authored, which demonstrates the importance of ensuring women writers and directors have the same opportunities to tell their stories and get their scripts in front of the right people.
“Historically, we’ve seen a significant lack of female and minority characters on the screen, even though there’s no shortage of compelling narratives from underrepresented storytellers. NYU Purple List is proof of that. But independent films need financing and support from producers, agents, managers, and actors to get made. And while progress has been made in recent years, much more work needs to be done. We know that representation on screen improves when there are more opportunities for diverse filmmakers to work behind the camera, which is why we’re working with an amazing panel of industry judges, the Black List, Buffalo 8, and Breaking Through the Lens to help bring these incredible scripts to life—these are industry players truly committed to real progress,” said Ashim Bhalla, a Tisch alumnus who co-founded the Purple List with classmate Shandor Garrison in 2012.
This year’s scripts were chosen by a panel of esteemed industry professionals including producers, screenwriters, casting directors, writers, and editors from Searchlight Pictures, Netflix, Sundance Labs, and other leading film organizations.
Since its inception, Purple List judges have selected 39 screenplays. Thirteen are now finished films, including 13 top-tier festival selections and 12 theatrical releases, with more films in development. The Adderall Diaries, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Appropriate Behavior, Manos Sucias, Those People, Yosemite and Newlyweeds are all official Purple List selections.
About the 2020 Purple List Selections
Hound is the second feature from Lisa Duva; films from her diverse narrative and documentary portfolio have played at Slamdance, Brooklyn and many other film festivals as well as at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image. HOUND is a horror-comedy following a timid young woman who’s about to let loose in a whole new way, “I love genre fiction and I’ve often wondered why werewolves are almost always men -- why would a story about turning into a bloody beast once a month be a metaphor for masculinity?” says Duva, who insists the story emerges from her most frustrating personal experiences as a woman, “If I make myself small and agreeable, I’m weak; if I assert myself and have confidence, I’m a bitch. I kept circling back to experiences of sexual harassment and unwanted objectification, and I absolutely hated part of myself for taking it all with a smile. All of that anger bubbled up inside me and I found my dog-woman turning into a real beast.”
Anthony Saxe is an American filmmaker from Schenectady, New York. His poignant drama Mirror Lake uses its specific setting to reflect the inner lives of the film’s unmoored and disillusioned characters, “I grew up a few hours south of Lake Placid where the story is set; best known for hosting the Winter Olympics. Like the town itself, the characters are largely defined by relationships and successes that have long since been reduced to memories: they each cling to small and imagined glories of their future.” The narrative centers on an injured former athlete who returns to his hometown, where his closest friendship and a burgeoning romance are both tested when he is haunted by echoes of past glory.
Pakistani-American and Muslim filmmaker Imran J. Khan is a San Francisco Bay Area native. His films have screened at major film festivals and aired nationally on PBS. Largely autobiographical, Mustache is a coming of age story following an eccentric fourteen-year-old boy from a conservative Pakistani-American household: when Ilyas Khan is pulled from Islamic school he has to navigate the bewildering social hierarchy of his new California public school. “It’s always been virtually impossible for me to explain the nuances of where my culture, religion, and identity meet, but this film is an honest attempt at it. It’s the film I wish I could have shown my peers growing up; it’s the film I wish existed, period.”
Ash Mayfair was born in Vietnam and educated in the UK and the US. Her critically acclaimed first feature, The Third Wife (a 2015 Purple List selection) garnered nineteen awards, screened at over seventy international film festivals, and distributed in thirty countries. Mayfair’s followup drama Skin of Youth won a Special Mention at Talents Tokyo, the Open SEA Fund Award at SE Asia Fiction Film Lab, and also won the Sorfond Award at the Busan Asian Film Market. The project was presented at the Berlinale European Co-Production Market in 2020 and is shortlisted for the Cannes women directors initiative ‘Breaking Through The Lens.’ Skin of Youth focuses on the turbulent romance between a transgender sex worker seeking to realise her dream of living in a woman’s body, and an Saigon cage fighter in 1998. In addition to its transgender narrative, the film explores personal and political freedom. “In the nineties, Communist Vietnam opened up when the U.S. lifted the trade embargo on the country. Overnight Saigon changed into an exciting new world where films, fashion, money, and music poured in from the West bringing with them the promises of sexual and personal liberation. Vietnamese youths like myself were able to see examples of freedom everywhere, and yet we were not allowed to embrace and live it in our own reality,” says Mayfair.
About the NYU Tisch School of the Arts
For over 50 years, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts has drawn on the vast artistic and cultural resources of New York City and New York University to create an extraordinary training ground for artists, scholars, and innovators. Today, students learn their craft in a spirited, risk-taking environment that combines the professional training of a conservatory with the liberal arts education of a premier global university with campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and 11 academic centers around the world. Learn more at www.tisch.nyu.edu.