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?

Numbers are hot.

So here’s a few to spice up your weekend:

Let’s look at Tony Award nominees and winners of the two big categories, Best Musical and Best Play, and their corresponding reviews in the New York Times over the last 11 seasons (since 1997).

                    BEST PLAY NOMINEES

Positive Reviews             40%                  Positive Reviews        68%
Mixed Reviews                30%                  Mixed Reviews          16%
Negative Reviews           30%                   Negative Reviews       16%


Positive Reviews             64%                  Positive Reviews        82%
Mixed Reviews                18%                  Mixed Reviews          18%
Negative Reviews           18%                   Negative Reviews       0%

What does all this mean?  Does the New York Times favor plays?  Are Tony voters voting with The Times or because of The Times?  Do reviews not matter for musicals looking to be nominated for a trophy, or is it just that the lower numbers of new musicals means easier nominations?

What does it mean?

That’s for you to decide.

Any accountant, comptroller or high school kid with a pirated copy of Excel can deliver you a set a good looking numbers.

It’s a Producer’s job to figure out what they mean.  And when you do, it’s not hot. It’s beau-tastic.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering (and you should be, because data is only as good as its source), we used the Variety Pro/Con/Mixed meter to determine the status of the reviews.)

Why Announce Recouping 1 Show When You Can Announce 3!


Yesterday was the most Super Tuesday ever.  We announced the recoupment of all three of my shows:  Altar Boyz, The Awesome 80s Prom and My First Time.

Read the article in the New York Times here, and the Playbill article here.

Ok, truth time.  Altar Boyz and My First Time did both recoup at the end of 2007 and at the same time.  However, The Awesome 80s Prom recouped a year or so ago.

Why did I wait to announce it?

Certainly I was itching to get it out there that I had returned the investment of my first show out of the box.  But press releases can’t be about ego.  They have to be about press.  The goal of each release is to get as many media members as possible to write about it, which increases the possibility that more people will read it, which increases the possibility that more people will buy tickets, and so on and so on.

I didn’t release it last year because I knew no one would have written about it (a fact confirmed by one of the reporters who interviewed me about all three recouping).  And even if someone did, it wouldn’t have gotten a lot of attention from readers.  It just wasn’t exciting enough.

But put it back to back with two other releases announcing the recoupment of shows from the same producer, emailed to the media within seconds of each other?  All of a sudden it feels more exciting, doesn’t it?

Be objective about the news you have and don’t talk unless you know people are listening.  Eli Manning wouldn’t throw a pass that he knew didn’t have a prayer of being caught. He’d wait, scramble in the pocket (almost getting sacked), and then throw it when he knew there was at least a possibility of completion.

So wait until you have open receivers.

(I have to wonder if that is the first ever football/theater analogy in the history of the blogosphere.  My step-dad would be very proud, even though he’s from Massachusetts and probably still sitting in his Patriots jersey and sobbing.)

Oh, the other reason I announced three shows recouping at once?  I wanted to stick it to these bitterinas who last year said that “Commercial Off-Broadway is Dead”.  Hopefully this will prove that it’s not dead.  It’s just sick.  And it has been for a long time.

So here’s the question:  if someone you loved was very ill and possibly dying, would you just keep giving them the same boring ‘ol medicine year after year?  No, you’d try everything:  experimental drugs, holistic medicine, and even The Secret.

Off-Broadway isn’t dead.  It just needs new medicine.

And as a Producer, you are the pharmaceutical company.

How Do I Find Investors For My Broadway Or Off-Broadway Show?

Unless you’re a bazillionaire, you are all probably wondering just how in the hoo-ha you’re going to find investors for your shows.

I’m going up to Columbia Univ. today to speak to a producing class on this same subject and, well, I can’t tell them before I tell you . . . so here are a few of my strategies on getting people to show you the moola.

Strategy 1:  Field of Dreams

Call me a can of Easy-Cheese if you want, but that creepy voice in the corn field was right: “If you build it, they will come.”

Spend your time worrying about your product, not about how you’re going to pay for it.  There are plenty of people in the world that enjoy investing in shows (even in bad ones).  Think like a high-tech company (another high-risk business).  Put your time and whatever money you do have in R&D.

If you create something remarkable and Purple-Cow like, you’ll find people throwing money at you. At the same time you’ll be more passionate about your product, which makes it that much easier to sell to investors.  Passion is contagious.

Strategy 2:  Cub Scouts

When I was a kid, I sold chocolate bars to raise money for my cub scout troupe.  I also sold Cutco, stationery products, and I even set up a candy shop at my father’s office after he taught me the wonders of wholesale (I called it Kenneth’s Kandy Shop.  I thought the “K” for Candy was the Koolest.).

No matter what I was selling, I always started the same way . . . with my family.  Then my friends, my neighbors, my father’s secretary, etc.

Getting investors is no different than hawking scissors that cut a penny in half.  Start with the people you know.  And then, ask them if they know people who would be interested in your product.

The people that are closest to you are going to be most inclined to give you money, because they are going to invest in YOU, regardless of what you’re selling.  Do you think my Mom really needed the scissors that cut a penny in half?

When I was pitching a show (hard) to my very first and biggest investor he cut me off and said, “Ken, I’m giving you the money, but not because I believe the show is going to make a fortune or even return its investment.  I don’t invest in projects.  I invest in people.”

True that.

Strategy 3:  Where The Wild Things aka Rich People Are

There is a big difference between bazillionaires and people with disposable income.  There are more people with disposable income out there than you think.  Lots of folks do well enough to spend money on nice vacations, a second home, a nice car, and even theater tickets!  GASP!

Your job?  Find them.  Go to charity benefits.  Go to Wall Street bars.  Go to art openings.  As my dad tells me all the time, “You have to show face.”  You’ll find people will be interested in what you are doing.  And getting a few thousand out of these folks is not as hard as you think.  Most people in the middle class to upper middle class have some extra investment money that they’d rather not invest in a boring blue-chip.  I often tell these people that investing in the entertainment industry is just an extension of the diversification of their portfolio.

These are my three principle strategies of raising money, but there are thousands more.  Just like anything else, you have to find out what works for you.

However you get them, this next part is crucial . . .

Take care of them.  I’m not saying you have to produce record breaking hit after recording breaking hit (although that helps).  You do have to communicate with them.  Send them t-shirts., introduce them to the actors, send them something unique at Christmas (but, please, anything but a card), etc.  Why?  Because people, like cigarettes, travel in packs.  People that invest in the theater, know people that invest in the theatre, who know people that will invest in whatever you are doing.

One of my biggest investors was introduced to me by one of my smallest investors two years after we met.  How did I meet him?  He walked up to me at one of my shows and said, “This is cool. How can I get involved?”

The lesson?  Produce stuff that people think is cool, and then . . . well, you remember how I said your first investors will most likely be your family?   Your last investors have to be treated like family, so they’ll stay with you . . . through thick and thin.

Need more tips on how to raise money for your project?  Click here to read all my best practices.

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Producer Of Young Frankenstein Make Boo-Boo.

After getting a few public spankings from co-producer Mel Brooks last week, Robert Sillerman admitted that the monster-sized ticket price of $450 was a mistake.

He cited the critical backlash (Brantley mentioned the $450 in the 2nd paragraph of his review) as well as public perception that all tickets were $450 as a few of the repercussions of his poor judgement.

I could have told him that was going to happen.

These were the same problems that The Producers faced when they announced their sky-high prices seven years ago, which begs the question . . . how could he make this mistake?

In 1990, my high school baseball team was playing its biggest rival, Pingree (eww).  We were down by one run in the 9th inning.  One of my best friends, Jim O’Connor, was on third base.  During some kind of distraction, Jim tried to steal home.  It took us all by surprise, but there he was, tearing towards home plate, trying to tie up the game.

He got thrown out in an ultra close call.  We lost.

My coach got frustrated, looked at Jimmy questionably, and then said to his assistant, “Why the &#$^ did he do that?”  The assistant spit out a sunflower seed and said, “If he would have made it, he would have been a hero.”

Jimmy was a great athlete.  He knew baseball and he knew his skills.  He surveyed the scene, and made a decision . . . which unfortunately for us, turned out to be the wrong one.

Robert Sillerman was almost a hero too.  Can you imagine how much faster the show would have recouped with those $450 tickets if YF had been received as well as The Producers?

But Sillerman got called out at home.

So what.  It happens all the time.  People make mistakes.  Robert Sillerman is an incredible business man, and even incredible business men who run multi-billion dollar companies make mistakes.

And so will you.  You’ll make a lot of them.  You’ll produce a bad show, you’ll hire the wrong person, and yes, you’ll price something incorrectly.

This business is not about not making a mistake.  You just have to to make sure you make more right decisions than wrong ones.  Producing is cumulative.  People don’t judge you by one decision or one show.  If they did, this guy would be in big trouble.  Look at how long his first show ran.  Then look at the success of his last three.

As much as I disagreed with Sillerman charging $450/ticket, I’ve got to to give him credit.  He made a mistake but owned up to it (and Mel should spend more time writing better shows than pointing his finger at others).

Who knows, when Blazing Saddles opens, he may want $1000/ticket.

Hopefully he’ll hire me as a consultant before he does.

And hopefully I won’t make a mistake.