How Hollywood deals with different types of Producers.

If you follow me on the ol’ Twitter, then you know I’m on the Left Coast.  And whenever I’m here, I’ve always got my ear to the drought-dried ground, listening for any scuttlebutt about new TV/film business practices that might be headed our way.

And, well, something popped up that I had to get your opinion on.

During the recording of my podcast with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (which is amazing by the way – so make sure you’ve subscribed to the podcast so you can be the first to hear it when it’s released), we got to talking about Lead Producers and Co-Producers and the differences between how Broadway and Hollywood treat these two types of Producers.

I told them I had heard rumors of all sorts of things coming down the pike on Broadway because there were a few powerful Producers out there who wanted more of a separation between what they did and what bundlers or large investors did.  There have been rumblings of separate Tony “medallions” for Co-Producers instead of the actual awards, different credits, no credits, etc.

That’s when Craig and Neil said, “Well, you know what Hollywood does, don’t you?”

And I didn’t.

But I do now.

So get this.  In tinsel-town, there’s this association called the Producers Guild of America.  And its primary job is to determine a Producer’s eligibility for awards.  So, if your name is on a movie, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re eligible for an Academy Award.  Oh no.  You have to submit to be eligible with the PGA.  And get this . . . they vet you!  They look at your application . . . which asks you what you did on the movie, how you were involved, who you worked with, etc., etc.  And then they check up on you to make sure you’re not making it up!

If they give you a thumbs up, then, and only then, are you eligible for an Oscar.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a quote from the Oscars Rules & Regs:

To qualify as a producer nominee for a nominated picture, the producer must have been determined eligible for a PGA award for the picture, or have appealed the PGA’s refusal of such eligibility.

And this isn’t just for the Oscars, by the way. This is for all the biggies, including the Emmys.

Can you imagine if this was done for Broadway?  Could it be?  Should it be?  What do you think?

Me, well, I’m not so sure.  I’ve been very vocal about my gratitude to the many people who have taken extraordinary risks on my shows and other shows that just wouldn’t have happened without them. So, in that case, what’s a little title between risk-taking-friends?  And if we instituted something like the PGA vetting process, would they take their money elsewhere if they didn’t pass, or if there wasn’t a guarantee when they committed their money in the first place?

At the same time, are all Producers the same?  Do we need different titles to make that distinction with the public?  Is the public confused?  Do they care?  Are all the names above the title actually devaluing the position of the Producer?

You tell me.  Because I’m not sure just yet.

That said, although I doubt that we’ll ever have PGA-like regulated titles, I do expect we’ll be doing something different in the coming years to draw the distinction between Lead Producers and Co-Producers.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t drive anyone away to . . . well . . . Hollywood.

 

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Should there be an Independent Broadway Producer’s League?

These guys got me thinking.

In their podcast, they talk about how the Independent Broadway Producer is becoming a bit of an endangered species.  With the influx of corporations and movie studios and even celebrity Producers, and with fewer theaters to go around, the Independents face greater challenges.

And that reminded me of what happened in the touring market years ago.  As this guy talks about in his podcast, several years ago a group of Independent Touring Presenters (the people who bring National Tours of Broadway shows to a theater near you) saw a shift in their business, as a large corporate player started eating up a majority of the playing weeks on the road.  They found it harder to get product, and therefore harder to survive.  So to protect their interests, they banded together to form the Independent Presenter’s Network, a group now forty members/markets strong.  They didn’t “Brexit” their larger trade organization (which happens to be the Broadway League), they just formed their own subset of like-minded folks, to lobby for their concerns and interests with one voice, and make sure they didn’t disappear off the (road) map.

Since Broadway is going through something similar (although maybe even more severe), might it be time for something like this here too?  And since, as I talked about in this blog, the negotiating interests of a big corporation could be totally different than the negotiating interests of an Independent Producer (not to mention how much money each has to play with), the Independents could use some “strength in numbers” strategy to make sure their voice is heard . . . and more importantly . . . heeded.  An Independent Producers group could form marketing alliances, help produce each other’s shows, lobby for theaters for each other, and remind the entire industry that money doesn’t guarantee great art.

The Independent Producer does have great challenges in the years ahead, as Broadway continues to boom, and more and more powerful players get in our game.  We’re a competitive lot, often crossing our fingers that a fellow Producer’s show will fail just so the theater will become available for one of ours.  It might be time to put down those swords of ill-will and join forces to find a way to not only survive Broadway in the 21st century . . . but to thrive on Broadway in the 21st century.

 

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Podcast Episode 81 – The New York Times Theater Reporter, Michael Paulson

I’ve been on the receiving end of questions from Michael Paulson, the Broadway “beat” reporter for the New York Times, that I thought it was time that I asked HIM a few questions.

And wouldn’t you know it . . . he agreed!

Michael has a unique perspective on our biz, having just joined the fray a couple of years ago, fresh off quite a different beat.

What was that beat?  You know, something really similar to the theater . . . religion!  (I guess for some it’s like a religion, right?)  Yep, that was his name you heard bandied about in Spotlight for his work covering the abuse scandal in the Boston area archdiocese – which won him a Pulitzer – and inspired this book.

I wanted to hear what someone who just joined our industry at a high level thought of how we were doing, how accepting we were to newcomers, and what it was like to get stories out of our notoriously tight-lipped  industry.

Michael didn’t disappoint, and answered all the above and then some including . . .

  • The differences (and surprising similarities) between covering theater and religion.
  • How the New York Times is competing with Candy Crush . . . and if it’s winning.
  • Is all press really good press?
  • How theater and the newspaper industry are facing similar challenges.
  • His favorite Broadway stories so far . . . and the story he’d like to write about, but hasn’t gotten the scoop . . . yet.

Enjoy some quotes and great sound bytes from a guy whose job is usually to go out and get some.

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

(In the podcast, I mention a link to Michael’s article on Hamilton which you can read here.  And follow Michael on twitter here.)

Click here to read the transcript.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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What I talked about at the Ticket Summit.

Many of my producing brethren asked me why I spoke at the Ticket Summit this week, which is a conference of secondary market sellers or brokers.

One even said, “Aren’t they the other side?”

And that response is exactly why I spoke at the Ticket Summit.

There is some Hatfield and McCoy-like bad blood between primary market sellers and secondary market sellers that stretches way back.  Like way back.  Like to the very beginnings of The Broadway League.  In fact, as Charlotte St. Martin reminded us in this blog, one of the original reasons for the formation of the league was . . .

To eliminate theatre ticket speculation and to protect the public from the exorbitant charges made by ticket brokers for desirable locations.

Sounds like something that was written in response to the Hamilton tickets costing $10k, right?

Well, that mission statement was written in 1930!  Almost 100 years ago!  If you read one of my favorite theatre books, The Abominable Showman (The David Merrick biography), you’ll read story after story of Mr. Merrick doing battle with the brokers.

So it’s no wonder that both sides are a little on edge when it comes to their relationship.

But sometimes, I find when people are soooo far apart, they have more in common than they think.

The first thing that Broadway Producers need to understand is that the secondary market isn’t going away.  It’s been around for these 100 years, so rather than get rid of it, perhaps we should talk to the “other side” more about how we can work together at our common goal . . . selling more tickets.

The first thing that Broadway Brokers need to understand is that sly tactics that confuse customers (e.g. buying domain names or sub-domain names of the shows or venues, with the hope of making a “Googler’ think they are buying from the “official source”) may benefit you in the short-term, but it hurts us all in the long-term.  It’s ok to come out from the shadows, and be proud of the service you provide . . . not pretend you’re something you’re not.

The fact is Broadway is NOT a billion dollar a year industry, despite what published reports say.

It’s actually much MORE than that, because all that “vig” or the amount over face-value that people are paying for tickets in the secondary market isn’t counted in the official totals.  Last year, the Broadway League reported a seasonal gross of $1,373,253,275.  That number is at LEAST $1.5 billion when you add in broker “overages” (especially in the season of Hamilton).

The time has come to figure out (and yes that means some regulation) how we can work together to establish guidelines that can help both primary and secondary sellers . . . and more importantly, the ticket buyers, who are the ones who really matter.

And yes, it’s possible.  Other industries are doing it.  In fact, the Yankees just signed an exclusive deal with StubHub.  Click here to read the NY Times article all about it.

My favorite part of the article is that the opening line reads, “After years of feuding . . . ”

Sound familiar?

 

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What Pokémon GO has to do with the future of the theater.

Are you playing it?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

One day after its release, the “augmented reality” app-based game was installed on more Android phones than Tinder.  That’s right, believe it or not, the only thing better than hooking up or finding a life partner . . . is “scoring” points collecting little electronic bugs.

And now there are more Pokémon users than there are Twitter users in the US.

So what in the name of Pikachu is going on?  And what does catching Meowths have to do with theater?

Well, I got news for you, playahs . . . it is theater.

I first wrote about video games and what I believe would be its influence on what we do back in 2011 (and I’m now developing this concept into a keynote that I’m delivering at an educational theater conference this fall).

The quick recap is this . . . see, I was a part of the first generation to grow up on video games.  I was an early adopter of the home gaming system (because I was a semi-geek) and got my first Atari at age 11.  But the generation after me?  Well, they’ve had video games their entire life. They’ve grown up with a joystick in their hands.  And, of course, one of those games that babysat them was Pokémon.

That means that my generation, and more importantly the one after me, has had a totally unique and different form of entertainment than our parents and our grandparents.  And in this form of entertainment, the user controls the destiny of the hero.  You pick your Pokémon character (you even get to dress him, name him . . . or he can even be a her), and you try to capture the princess, save the world . . . or accomplish whatever your objective (or “want” to use an acting term) may be.

My theory has always been that as this generation matures to the age of the traditional theatergoer (in their 40s . . . which is where I am, and the early adopters of Pokémon are a mere 10-20 years away)  . . . and more importantly, as they become the theater creators, they’re going to demand and create entertainment that has a similar component . . . where they somehow control the destiny of the hero.  Because that’s what they’ve grown up doing . . . unlike any generation before them.

While there will always be room for the classics, do you really think an audience 20-30 years from now is going to want to sit down in a theater, behind some imaginary fourth wall, and watch Willy Loman decide if he wants to live or die?  By then they’ll have seen 10 Broadway revivals anyway (especially if we keep bringing these classics back with a new star as often as we are).

Maybe they will.  From time to time.  But that’s not going to the bulk of what they want to experience.

They’re going to want to get into their entertainment.  They’re going to want to hold the controller of their story.  They’re going to want it to be all around them.  (And don’t even get me started on what the generation after them, who will grow up on things like Oculus, will want from their theater.)  We’re already seeing this in fits and starts.  In just a couple of weeks, I’m going to see a show at The, super hip, House Theatre of Chicago called The Last Defender which is billed as “A Live Action Game That Makes You The Hero.”  And this is just the beginning.

What does this have to do with Pokémon?

For the first time in a major way . . . the video game is more than just a user and a console.  Now, the user has to get out.  The world is the stage.  And there are other audience members around you . . . sometimes playing with you.  It’s a live theatrical experience that just happens to have a technical component.

And you know what’s the most interesting part?  The Producers of this show aren’t paying any theater rent.

Pokémon isn’t what the theater will be in 20 years.  But it’s a sign that something new is coming.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, my Pokémon name is BwayMon.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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