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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