Why I’m going to start producing movies.

In case you missed it, a show closed recently without ever having opened.

Back before all the Tony Award hoopla, the Broadway bound production of Titanic hit an iceberg.  (Ironically, the acclaimed production was crossing the Atlantic, having originally been produced at London’s Southwark Playhouse.)  It was supposed to play Toronto first – that terrific town that used to have as much impact on the commercial theater scene as Chicago, but just hasn’t been able to rebound since the glory days of the 90s.

The reason posted in the press for the cancellation of the Toronto run of Titanic, which then dominoed into the cancellation of the NY run?

No available Broadway house.

It costs a lot of money to do out-of-town productions, and since the producers of Titanic couldn’t get a guaranteed Broadway theater sometime in the coming season, they wisely pulled the plug.  They didn’t want their ship sitting in the harbor with nowhere to dock . . . and no guarantee that it would ever dock.

So once again, the greatest problem facing Producers in the 21st century ain’t raising money, it’s finding an available theater amidst the jungle of long-running hits that we’ve spent the last 2-3 decades producing.

I wrote about this at length in this post from last year after Tuck Everlasting similarly postponed their pre-Broadway tryout (in that post I break down the available theaters by the numbers, so check it out).

So what does this have to do with me and movies?

It’s pretty simple.  I want to produce Broadway shows.  And I’ve got a bunch of shows that are approaching the port of Broadway themselves.  And a few others that have land in sight.  But I’m obviously not the only one.  There are a lot of producers out there, and a lot of good shows, big stars, and such.  And if there are less and less docks available, that means, well, the odds of me getting a show on decreases.  And that means . . .  well, what the heck am I going to do?  I’m not a thumb-twiddler, that’s for sure.  And I need to produce like a woodpecker needs to peck.

So, I’m going to start producing things that don’t need a theater.  And that would be movies.  And web stuff.  And so on.

Don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not giving up on theater or Broadway at all.  For the love of George Gershwin, no.  But I’m a businessman.  And if the current theatrical climate restricts my ability to conduct business, then I’ve got to find some other businesses that fulfill what I want to do with my career.  (This kind of thing happens all the time in all sorts of industries, btw – the music biz, cell phone production, etc.  And it’s up to you to adapt to what’s happening around you.)

So I am going to start producing other things.  And I’m excited to say I’ve already got a napkin sketch of a slate of three non-theater projects.  Stay tuned for an official announcement in Q3 of this year.

This is a weird time for Producers.  I’m reminded of how people talk about losing writers to Hollywood because there are so few opportunities on the Great White Way for new and unknown playwrights.  And since it’s hard for them to earn a living writing for the theater anywhere else but on Broadway, they run out to H-town the first time someone offers them cash for a draft of American Pie 17.  I can’t help but wonder if the lack of theater availability now and in the coming years (it’s only going to get worse as we produce more long runners) will drive more Producers out West or to other careers.

Or maybe a couple of the remaining unrestored Broadway houses will reopen. Or maybe some new ones will be built. Or maybe non-traditional spaces will open up all over.  Or maybe Broadway will expand its radius (there are some sweet and huge spaces in Harlem).

I’m not so sure.  But I’m going to make sure I’m diversified just in case my ships have to drop anchor for longer than I want them to.

I’m super excited about the new stuff.  At the very least, I’ll learn a lot.  And I’ll have even more stuff to talk about on this blog.  And hopefully you’ll learn right along with me.

 

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Comments
  • So, Ken – any comments on why, if Broadway is too full, you’re not considering producing a show in another city, or producing a straight-to-tour production, rather than moving straight to movies?

    Perhaps you’ve already addressed that somewhere and I’ve missed it. But can’t you, as a theatre producer, find new and innovative ways to produce live theatre somewhere outside of the very small real estate of central Manhattan?

    • Janis says:

      My thoughts also Douglas.
      Maybe Broadway has better uses for it’s real estate, but empty buildings are waiting for shows from coast to coast and they are surrounded with enough talent to support any show on Broadway now or in the future.
      New York just isn’t what it used to be and it’s certainly not the only place or perhaps the best place for great theatre.

  • Jared says:

    This is an interesting, self-caused conundrum among producers. It is something that, as a New Yorker, I’ve been concerned about for a while. As Broadway continues trying to producer long running hits, it is eating up the real estate for something new, and I personally think that is a problem. Does anyone really want a Broadway where every show has been running for 20 years and there’s no room for anything new?

    I know long running hits provide lots of people with lots of jobs, but I personally have been hoping for some of Broadway’s longer-running productions to close to make room for something new. Because I have noticed this very problem, and every time we fill up a theatre with another long-running hit, that is one more theatre that isn’t available for something new.

    I honestly think it would be healthier for the community as a whole if producers stopped trying to come up with long running hits and moved towards a shorter runs. I personally like the limited run model employed by most plays on Broadway at this point, because it ensures there will be a steady stream of new work to see each season. And if budgeted correctly, it is entirely possible for shows to recoup and turn a profit via these limited runs.

    I personally wish more musicals would target 3-5 year runs rather than trying to run forever. Unless the show is not being managed properly, 3 years should be enough time for a production to turn a profit. But if shows were only running 3-5 years, I feel like we could avoid some of the scarcity of theatres that is hurting the industry creatively. I also think that if shows were only planning on running 3 years, they would be budgeted smarter and stand more of a chance of turning a profit, and then everyone wins.

  • Tony says:

    Hey! (former Prom-er “Beef” here!) I think this is a smart move Ken. Adapt and evolve, or others will. Smart man!

  • senorvoce says:

    One word… Plastics.

  • Polo says:

    I think you’re onto something, but it doesn’t have to be big budget movies. The money it takes to mount a typical show, that same money could be used to create that show on a soundstage and record it to tape and hard disc it as Content. You could then edit scenes, do retakes, make it perfect. Just do it all onto a format which will not need a theater. It’s media, it’s TV, it’s ready for streaming on NetFlix. That’s the future, if we have one, giant TV’s and virtual reality in our own homes, where all content resides.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Great news. TV and film need more producers like you who understand writers. I may have a few things you like!

  • Adam Bialow says:

    Diversifying is great for a producer, but the lack of a dock for a show is sometimes no different for a motion picture that does not have distribution. Unfortunately, many worthy motion pictures get made and not all of them find a home. Pre-sales of a picture can assist to offset the risk of producing a motion picture and covering a good chunk of the budget beforehand and the definite upside is many different categories of rights to exploit. (Compared to theater where if your show closes and is not close to recouping, there is not another form of media you can license for additional revenue like film.) Another challenge is finding the right cast and/or genre that has value internationally or in the US. Many actors have “name appeal” to people of a certain age, but does that not translate into distribution. Finding the money to cover the budget is sometimes easier than finding distribution. What wealthy person in real estate wouldn’t want to get a producer credit on a film. Unfortunately, I have seen quite a few people blow their money on projects that looked great, but would have no value in the international marketplace and vice versa for the US. I have always enjoyed learning from you in your blog– would be happy to return the favor if you would like to speak about any of your film projects offline.

  • Sarah Safford says:

    Don’t abandon ship! Time to revive Vaudeville and blend live theater with movies. Plenty of multiplexes await new live coming attractions. People still crave and respond to real actors in real time. Think job creation!

  • Norma Kramer says:

    Ken, This posting made me feel very sad. Broadway needs new shows. Perhaps there should be a producers agreed on limit on how many years a show can stay in one theatre. Do we really need shows to stay on Broadway for year after year ?Road shows are offered in so many cities now many tourists have other opportunities to see the shows that linger on Broadway. Someday I hope producers will realize new shows are essential to the long range health of our beloved Broadway.

  • Is this perhaps the reason “Somewhere In Time” is not scheduled for the near future? i.e. no available theaters? Yes, time for these long running shows (which are NOT packing them in anymore) to step aside. Can you imagine making a career on only one show? Of course not, time to move on.

  • This is why I’ve spent so much time fighting the destruction of Broadway theaters. Here are a few suggestions:

    1. Buy the Mark Hellinger from the Times Square Church (let the church name its price);

    2. Restore the Times Square Theater, and convert the Ford/Hilton/Foxwoods/Lyric back into the Lyric and Apollo;

    3. Tear down the Marriott Marquis and rebuild the five theaters it destroyed.

    That would give you nine more theaters. I realize that these suggestions are not completely practical. But it’s what I would like to do.

  • Dave Cackowski says:

    Why not turn the closed Roseland into a new Broadway Theatre?

  • Cynthia DeVies says:

    Take the next Southwest Airlines jet to Dallas and join us tonight to see Titanic at Irving Lyric Stage. When Stephen Jones, Lyric Stage’s founding producer, learned of the proposed B-way revival of the show he quickly grabbed the rights and is reviving the marvelous production of this show which he did a number of years ago. A full orchestra conducted by Jay Dias will fill the pit and it will be a glorious evening. Mame was announced as the show concluding Lyric’s current season, but Stephen decided wisely to do Titanic. Sail on!!

  • George says:

    I agree that one must NOT sit around and wait for something – where one has NO control over that happening – and they must Move On…

    (And, always keep a fising line in the water)

    In fact, I have had such a much more difficult time getting things started in DE (than NC) and are running up against the same out-of-town costs in contemplating running my new play “here” rather that “there” (with the Actors from “there” having to be housed “here”) that I dedicated my downtime to doing a corporate seminary for my Employer… a real Dog & Pony Show touting and training some new IT products (the very thing that brought me back to theatrical production) and this June 19th I will be doing a Live Webinar that will be attended by more people than have seen me in ALL my Live Performances in my entire Life… and the company is paying for everything….

    So – yes – You gotta think outta the box.

    The only think I have to disagree with is that Times Square is that Location / Location / Location… that they tout in Real Estate. It is Theatrical Ground Zero… and, in matter of blocks, you may as well stage something in New Jersey or Delware or Florida… true there are exceptions like “Sleep No More” and last year’s “Natasha Andre etc” but those are rare exceptions and the other companies are all sucking at the government teat… nice if you can get it… but, as I have been warning, don’t expect that to be around for much longer.

    The ONLY think that does not fit into the Free Market concept is that WHY wouldn’t they open more House IF there are productions ready-to-go… and the reasons is simple… 1.)The high cost of real estate in Manhattan means the Landlord could nix your house in a matter of months 2.) The start up of a new business in NYC which simply put is the WORST place to start a business given the union, the regulations, the politicans and organized crime (the later of which encompasses all the prior three) and finally 3.) that Tourist Crowd could very well evaporate overnight…

    THEN there will be LOTSA free Theatre Space… but very little audience to fill it… kinda like the 70s

    g

  • George says:

    btw this Producer and I are on the same page

    “Time to revive Vaudeville and blend live theater with movies. Plenty of multiplexes await new live coming attractions”

    My Staged Reading for my 2nd play (based on the play that became the libretto for the operetta “Der Fledermaus” will be done…. in a Cineplex… for a Opera Savy group of Seniors… and the Cineplex is delighted to bring that crowd into their – empty – houses during the midday…

    But I couldn’t turn the wheel another notch and make it a “play”

    g

  • ECP says:

    Bravo! Okay, a little biased here because the movies are a passion for me. But “maybe” does not a satisfying life or career make. As far as I’m concerned, these are pioneer days in bringing fresh voices and visions to audiences…everywhere.

  • Zanne Hall says:

    Say it’s not so, Ken. Movies AIN’T theatre – that’s why they’re cinema celluloid & not real. Theatre needs people to give it a shot in the arm – why not open up another house, and like Douglas Clayton says in these comments, another city? Long Island City is growing. Ever notice how many talented people who have left theatre for LACA have come back to fulfill their artistic vision (which movies so readily like to crush)?

  • Eldonie says:

    Great business move; wishing you much success!

  • Shauna says:

    I so love reading your blog, because you and I think the exact same way about so many things. I think the next big thing is new musicals coming out in film form (a la Frozen, but live action).

    If you come to Hollywood, the Southern California musical theatre scene is vibrant and full of amazing talent!

  • Susan says:

    So of course your solution is resident in your opening imagery:
    Offshore Broadway. Maritime Law. Economics and pay-scales decided by participants.
    Each cruise to present performances of world premiere performances of original productions starring world class talent. How much could you charge for a ticket on THAT cruise?

  • Alex Yagolnik says:

    This article made my day! Thank You!

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