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.

“How Do I Get The Stage Rights To A Book/Movie/Play, etc.?” (Updated 2018).

When I was a Company Manager, I used to tell my assistants that if we ever got the same question from more than two company members, we hadn’t done our job.  If more than two people asked what time our flight was to the next city, or asked us to explain their paychecks to them, then we hadn’t anticipated the needs of our company or communicated information that was important to them fast enough.

I believe this is a great way to measure your success as a manager.  No questions?  Nice job.

Using that definition of my job as a blogger, I have failed you.

I have been asked a few times recently how to go about obtaining the rights to a book or movie or play, etc. in order to turn that property into a Broadway show.

The good news?  It’s easy to ask for the rights.  The bad news is that it’s harder to get an answer.

Sometimes it’s hard just figuring out where to start.  Here are a few tips, classified by the type of property you are going after.

  • BOOK
    • Find the Publisher of the book (look at the first few inside pages) and call them.  Most publishing companies will have entire departments dedicated to rights.  I find that I get the quickest answers on the availability of rights from publishers (probably because disposition of rights is such a large source of their revenue).  If they can’t give you a straight answer, they should be able to tell you the agent for the author and you can contact the agent directly.  They may ask for something in writing (see below).
    • The first question is to find out if the movie is an original or if it was based on earlier work.  If it was based on a book or short story or a note jotted on a napkin, go after the original author first before approaching the movie company.  Odds are that you are going to have to go to the movie company anyway, but you’re much more likely to get a response (and a positive one) from the person who has the most invested in the project (the original author), rather than someone in the legal department of a billion dollar conglomerate.  You can get the original author on your side, find out more info about what rights the movie company actually owns, and develop a strategy from there.
    • If it’s an original screenplay, then you are definitely going to have to approach the movie company.  You can also approach the author of the screenplay at the same time, using the same theory as the above, but if the script was written for MGM, then expect MGM to hold most of the cards.  Movie companies get a ton of rights requests (for clips, etc.) so they will always want something in writing.  Call the company and find out to whom to send the request.  Send it, and then follow up with a phone call.  Then wait and wait.  And keep following up.  I once got a response months later via the mail.  I mean, they couldn’t just send an email?
  • PLAY
    • Theater writers always own their material, as opposed to screenwriters who have to sell their soul to the mighty movie companies.  Therefore, seek out the author directly, through the Dramatists Guild (if they are a member) or their agent, or by visiting Angus.
    • All of the above principles can be applied to other mediums as well, from optioning websites to television shows to clothing lines.  Most people have agents or lawyers or production companies that you can track down through Google.  If at all possible, get to the person, not the agent.

Another related question I get is “Should I have a lawyer make this inquiry for me?”  Lawyers can make you seem more “serious” or “official”, especially if you lack credits.  Lawyers can also get you a speedier response if you hire a firm that does business with these agents or movie companies all the time.  The downside is that lawyers cost bucks.  Beacoup de bucks.  So, I often advise people on limited budgets to make the request yourself first (do yourself a favor and make up some good looking fax stationery with a logo and a production company name).  If you don’t get a response, you can always go the lawyer route later.

This process is really easier than it seems.  The key to it is to just start.  Summon up some Oliver-like courage and just ask for what you want.  Always thought your favorite book would make a great movie?  Musical?  Greeting card?  Ask.  It literally can take as little as 15 minutes to get the request off.  Just by asking the question, you’ve started the ball rolling down the hill of getting your show done.

If they aren’t available, you can move on to the next project, and stop saying, “The Alienist would make such a good film!” (I just found out that Scott Rudin has been sitting on the rights.  Scott, if you are reading (or if your assistant is reading this for you), I’ll take those rights – name your price.)

And, you can keep asking for them.  I sent one request per year for five years before I got the rights to Somewhere In Time.  Put a reminder in your Outlook to ask every year at the same time.  Don’t give up until you get the rights or they take out a restraining order against you.

And then form a dummy corporation under another name and ask again.

_ _ _ _

Did you enjoy this post? How about a look at the other side of the rights holders? Visit my post A Note to all the Rights Holders out there, to see suggestions of a different way the rights holders and those seeking them should look to when putting together new musicals.

Get more knowledge about the industry, monthly newsletters and webinars—like How to Get the Rights to…Anything, plus a Tip of the Week email, when you join TheProducersPerspectivePRO today.

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We’re In The News Twice In One Day!

In addition to the NY Times article today, we also got some coverage in this article in Crain’s magazine about short shows. 

You’ll recognize some of my quotes from this blog entry.

A follow up . . . I just saw Young Frankenstein.  I thought it could have been shorter.

Piggybacking Featured In The New York Times

As you know, I’m not a believer in the archaic 8 show a week model, especially for Off-Broadway shows.  The New York Times did a story on the current trend of sharing spaces Off-Broadway to relieve some of this burden and I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for the article.

The Times calls sharing spaces piggy-backing.  My press agent calls it bunk beds.

I call it Blind Windows.

That’s a reference to the fictional screenplay in Sunset Boulevard.  In Blind Windows, two people share the same apartment.  One works during the day, one during the night and they never meet . . . even though they share the same bed.

You know what’s better than being quoted in this article?  The two pictures of my shows!

It Happens To The Stock Market And It Happens To Broadway.

We had our own version of a “market correction” 2 days ago when Color Purple announced that it is closing.

Although everyone knew that Purple was showing signs of weakness post-Fantastia, the announcement, leaving the Broadway Theater empty during the Spring, was a bit of a shock, just like the Dow dropping a few hundred points in one day.

I should have predicted this one.  I picked up on a sign that we were due for a correction a few weeks ago when Variety reported that Broadway grossed 15 million on 30 shows.

But what did it gross during the same week last year?  17 million.  On 28 shows.

2 more million.  2 LESS shows.  With last year’s prices.

Something had to give.  And it was Oprah.

While the closing of Purple is unfortunate, let’s hope that it helps stabilize the street and sends us (and the Dow) back up.

This brings up an interesting point.  Too often we worry about watching our grosses from week to week.  We celebrate being “up from last week”, or lament being down.  For those of you who have never seen a box office statement, look at this . . . you’ll see that the weekly comparison is part of the automatic reporting.

What’s the problem with obsessing over week to week comparisons?  Too many factors that affect sales change from week to week:  holidays, Super Bowls, weather, etc.  What we really should study is the gross changes from year to year.

Unfortunately, since the average run of a new musical on Broadway is only 52.67 weeks, most people don’t bother to look at yearly trends.

Here’s a graph of three years of data for one my shows.  Look at how closely the weeks line up from year to year.  Cool, huh?

Your sales trends emerge naturally.  When you discover them, that’s when you can really put your producing skills to work.  Discounts (or cutting discounts during busier weeks), expense cutting, etc.

When I look at a graph like this, I think of the low points like enemy targets, and my initiatives are my missiles.  By analyzing the trends over several years, I’ve isolated by targets.  And when you isolate your targets, your missiles are much more effective.

Don’t have a show that has run years?  Graph overall Broadway/Off-Broadway trends from year to year.  It is better than nothing.

(Anyone have any ideas what the giant spike is on that graph?)