A Risky Business Tom Cruise would be proud of.

You’ve heard me talk about the importance of a title.

You’ve heard me talk about how today’s audience enjoys shorter entertainment.

And then along comes a play that is almost 3.5 hours long, has no stars, has a title no one can understand or pronounce . . . and will probably be the most profitable non-star driven play of the last several years and win the Pulitzer.

Look at it on paper, and producing August looks like a very risky venture.  Props to Producer Jeffrey Richards for taking the chance.  Inside sources tell me that he agreed to do it after a read and a recommendation.  He probably could have waited to see the regional production, but instead, he just jumped on board.

He read it.  He liked it.  And he also knew it had inherent marketing problems.

But, to quote one of my favorite 80s movies, Risky Business . . .

“Sometimes you just gotta say . . . “What the f***.”  “What the f***” gives you
freedom.  Freedom brings opportunity.  Opportunity makes your future.”

Does the success of August mean that my previous blogs were wrong?  No.  Would August be easier to sell under a different title?  Yes.  Would it be easier to sell if it was shorter?  Yes.

Maybe it would have made even more money.

But does recouping 200% compared to 175% really matter when you have to make that much of a compromise?

This is the challenge of the commercial producer:  what’s the right mixture of art and commerce?  Obviously Jeffrey believed without a doubt that his product was so good that it didn’t need the perfect canned marketing strategy.  He believed it could survive a bad title and a length that makes Les Miz look like a Family Guy episode.

He was right.  Remarkable product always proves the smartest marketers wrong.  That’s why it’s the first P.

If he didn’t believe that it was a home run, maybe he would have begged for a different title or a shorter length to prevent those overtime bills.  After all, there is a big difference between
75% recouped and 100% recouped, right?

But nope, he believed in the product and in the marketplace for that product.

So here’s the question:

If August: Osage County landed on your desk instead of Mr. Richards’, would you have produced it?

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Comments
  • Kevin McGowan says:

    I think that when you’ve had the producing success that Jeffrey Richards has had, I think he can go to his investors and say, “Hey, there’s this really compelling new play that I want to produce. We’ll try it out at one of the top regional theaters in the country with a top-notch group of local repertory actors. If the production is as compelling as the written play is, we’ll transfer to a limited run on Broadway. Yes, it’s a risk to take with an unknown playwright, but we’re hedging our bets with mounting the regional production before the more costly Broadway one. I’ve done well for you financially in the past, so how about investing in what could be one of the best new plays of the decade?”
    I think a less well-established producer couldn’t have made that pitch. Plus, there are many times when producers will bring financially risky productions to Broadway merely to showcase the artistic value of the production without expecting to make a profit. A good recent example is “Caroline, or Change.” It’s like giving to Lincoln Center to support the arts, except there’s a slim chance you might make back your investment. Either way, you feel like your money went to a good cause.

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