Why Broadway Producers need longer option periods.

When a Broadway producer options a play or a musical from an Author, the Producer pays a set amount of money (the advance) for a set amount of time.  Usually that initial option period is a year.  However, in the rights agreement, that option period can usually be extended to a second year and maybe a third.

That used to be enough time to get a show mounted.  But now?  It just ain’t.

First, putting a team together to mount a show takes a heck of a lot more time than before.  Just finding a director can take months (frankly, just getting an agent to return your call can take weeks).  And let’s not even get into finding a star.  With agents, and managers, and lawyers, oh my, it can take months just to get a meeting with a star, never mind get a positive response.  I’ve had offers out to certain actors for as long as eight weeks, only to get a “no,” and honestly?  I’m not even sure the actor ever got the offer  (it would have been worth the wait – so we waited).

Second, once you get a team together, you’ve got to get a theater.  And in today’s climate, you can wait for two years . . . easy . . . and poof, there goes your option.  What do you do then?

And if you’re working on a musical?  Well, factor in the time it takes to do an out-of-town . . . oh wait, first we need to factor in the time in takes to find an out-of-town.  In the old days, out-of-towns were all commercial out-of-towns.  A new musical would try out in Boston or Philadelphia at a commercial house and then come on in.  Now, most out-of-town tryouts are at regional theaters.  And those theaters book those slots a year or more in advance.  And there goes another year off your option.  And God forbid you need two out-of-towns!

It just takes longer nowadays . . . and for a Producer to have to be constrained to old school development periods in our new world of Producing just doesn’t make sense anymore.  A three year option period can disappear in an instant, and if it does, and the Authors decide to go elsewhere, all your work (and your front money) can disappear along with it.

So if you’re optioning a piece, whether that’s a revival or not, make sure you get an extended option period.  And build in “benchmarks” that allow that option period to be extended if you successfully reach them (hiring a director, produce a reading, etc.).

Believe me, agents and lawyers and authors . . . we don’t want it to take this long.  We want the shows up on their feet so we’ve got a shot at making money faster too.  But hamstringing us with shorter option periods could result in an inferior product . . . or no product at all.


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  • Will says:

    Just getting an agent to return your call can take weeks? It sounds like you need to start looking for talent elsewhere. There are a lot of great people out there looking for work who would be more than happy to return your call, and not in two weeks. Maybe you should set up a branch office in Chicago. It’s got a huge acting pool and lots of world-class directors like Dexter Bullard, David Cromer, and David Zak. And you could do your out-of-town tryouts there without paying for hotels, stipends, etc.

  • Carvanpool says:

    So much whining!

    Maybe an improved work flow is in order.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    As a screenwriter, Ive hadrequests for option periods to be extended and if I saw progress, I happily agreed. But there was always additional money involved. I dont think any writer would be against an extended option, but you cant buy groceries with hope.

  • Steven Ullman says:

    You are spot on with this one, Ken. By way of examples, I optioned a musical then called “Bite!” in 2005. The original two writers and I worked on developing it for about 1-1/2 years before we agreed that we needed a third eye – a new book writer. It took six months (all driven by the agent) to SIGN Joe DiPietro’s deal, even though we had agreed to all the deal points. It took 5-1/2 years “from option to opening” (I’m sure you’ll get that reference) before we did open at The York Theatre in summer, 2010. I was fortunate to be working with writers who understood that “getting it right” was better than it happening “now.” Too often, I have found that writers think that what they have written is perfect just as presented to me and want/expect things to happen with a faster than reasonable trajectory. I will not pay for an option without sufficient time (realistically) to make things happen and built-in extensions based on meeting certain benchmarks. Thanks for your post.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    I disageee. I believe a year is plenty of time for any option on a property, andotherwise people will tend to procrastinate.place things on a back burner and thus the immense flow of other potential projects will likely overwhelm any systen. I do adaptations myself, and of they are of current literary works there is a validity to getting them done ASAP. Example, I adapted a novel by a guy whose ealier novel got a NYTimes bestseller rating and it got the eye of an excellent adaptor, John Patrick, was put into a theater inside a year and benefited from the speeed into achieving a Pulitzer, 3 Tonys back when there were few, and ran for 4 years[Teahouse of the August Moon]. The movie turned out well coming out 2 tears after closing but the musical adaptation a couple of years later flopped, in part because of the time differential. Meanwhile the author had written 2 intervening books one of which got him quasi-blacklisted[It had the bad fortune to realistically depict theNationalist Cinese takeover of Roemosa/Taiwan clling them similar to Mao’s thugson the Mainland during the Red scare /McCarthy years, and his last one which was the biggest seller he had was spurned because of it though it supposedly was one of 2 books that engendered the Peace Corps(the other being Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American). During the Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras its gentle military satire would have been a problem, though nowit is timely again with us ending occupations of former enemies..though we may have to go back in Iraq’s case. Some stories are timeless, some are timely, and they cannot be treated the smae. Each play is different, and different expectations should affect the contracts. Benchmarks can be useful and may well justify an automatic renewal of an opption, but a meeting or phone call can just as readily renew an option as well as any rollovers and should be preferred as a mode of doing business…especially with prspective repeat cooperations.

    However, there are often problems and obstacles that with a little time can be overcome, and they may result in no apparent progress when actually some occurs. In these cases even if the option is up any sensible author or adaptor will recognize the wisdom in not going through the process with someone new. Perhaps the solution is in acknowledging the difficulty of determining when a production can be put on and the procedures needed to put it on at any time, which would not be determined by site availability. But in general i support the annual option concept.

  • Frank Zuback says:

    I’m totally with Ken on this one. I just spent one (1) year working on two (2) stars for a two-hander titled “Moolah”. Now have Mario Cantone and Joey Lawrence. Hard to believe, but it took one year.

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