“How much should I pay for an option?”

A great question comes from one of my readers on the left coast.

What do you do when, after spending years reading every script that comes across your desk and attending every festival in the free world, you finally find the holy grail of new shows!

Clear off your calendar, because you’re ready to sink the next few years of your life (and the next few years’ salaries) into getting this show off the page and onto the stage!

But before you book a theater, you better make sure you have the right to book a theater.  Time to option the property.

But how much do you pay?  Is there a third party appraiser?  A blue book for scripts?

The antiquated APC from The Dramatists Guild sets the first option for a new musical at $18,000.  Is that appropriate for you?

I don’t know.

It’s up to you to decide the value of the script and make an offer to the author or the author’s agent.

I’ve paid everything from $1 to $1000s when optioning material.  The answer to the question from the other coast is that the option amount differs depending on so many things, like:

  • What is the project?
  • Is it completed or just an idea?  A commission?
  • Who is the author?  What have they done?
  • What do you have planned for the project?  Broadway?  Off-Broadway?  Tour?  Foreign?
  • What is the potential commercial viability?
  • How many people are interested in it?
  • Was it your idea?
  • Etc.

I will say this when you’re thinking about what to pay.  Front money or seed money is hard to raise in the theater.  Unless you’re sitting on some giant corporate development fund, getting people to pay for early readings, workshops, etc. is hard, but that’s the money that is oh so necessary.

I often tell my authors and creatives that I try to keep my advances low so that I have more money to put into the shows themselves.  The hungrier authors are usually more than happy to forego a few bucks if it means a few more readings, or a few more rehearsals, or few more musicians.

We’re all making an investment in the early stages, and we’re all better served in having early money go into the show, instead of into a pocket.

Get your philosophy on . . .

I got an email from a 17 year old reader from Miami, FL who is taking classes at my alma mater this summer.  We’ll call him David . . . because that’s his name.

One of David’s classes is called “Theatre in New York” and it’s a class “dealing with the philosophy of performance, particularly in relation to theatre seen both on and Off-Broadway.  The class culminates in a presentation where I, as part of a group, must answer the question, “What is Theatre?””

David’s group has decided to ask all sorts of folks in and out of the biz for their answer to that question.

Tough question, right?  At first I tried to come up with a clever answer like the urban mythical Harvard applicant who when asked on his application to “Use the space below to describe yourself” answered with one word.  “Brief.”

Here’s what I came up with.

What is Theatre?

Theatre is the only art form that exists in the present tense.

Film was.

Books were.

Theatre is.

What is Theatre to you?

Use the space below to comment your thoughts.  To quote our good friend, David . . .

There are no parameters, no rules.  It can be as long as you want, as short as you want, as specific as you want, as broad as you want.  We thank you for sharing your time to help us with our project (and our grades).


“How do I get started with Producing?”

Another common question I get from readers is how they should get started in producing.

Here’s my answer on getting started in Producing . . . or in anything . . . in the form of a Kenism.

Newton used to say, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

I say, “Producing is like racquetball.”

When you connect with that rubber ball in that white-walled room, it’s going to come back at you.  Whether you like it or not.

Sometimes, you’ll hit a winner, sometimes you’ll hit a dribbler.  Sometimes, that rubber ball is going to hit you square between the eyes, like it hit John Candy in Splash.

Or sometimes, that ball is going to hit you square in the ball (or the lack thereof).

But if you serve it up, something will happen.  Without a doubt.  Energy responds to energy.

So maybe when you serve up your first show, it won’t move to Broadway.  But maybe you’ll meet a playwright that will hit a winner in the third game of his match.  Or maybe you’ll discover a key strategy that you’ll use in your next game that’ll break a tie.  Or maybe you’ll get an agent to represent you that will get you in a tournament.

No matter what happens . . . the ball will come back if you hit it against the wall.

The key is . . . to serve.

There’s no coincidence that the hardest part of racquetball is the serve.  It takes the most strategy, the most strength, the most finesse.

The key is to remember that the ball will come back, even if you don’t serve it perfectly.  There’s a wall there.  The ball is rubber.  It’s got no choice.

And if you love the theater, then neither do you.

Just serve it.

“You’re a theater guy, so what’s all this talk about a documentary?”

Another good question from a reader who caught my “twitter” today about reviewing the operating agreement for the documentary that I’m shooting.

People used to ask me if I would ever do film.  My answer was always the same:  “I won’t do film until I run across a project that tells me I must do it as a film.”

Not everything should be a play or a musical.  Whenever I’m contemplating doing a show, I ask myself (and you should ask yourself), “What will make this project so unique that it becomes more special on stage than in any other medium (book, film, etc.)?”   If there’s another medium that would be even more effective, you have to consider that.

Theater is a non-realistic art form.  Film is a very realistic art-form.  In film, if you’re on a street, you show the actual street.  In theater, if you’re on a street, you show a semblance of a street.  It’s what you do with the lack-of-a-street that makes the stage special.

Back to the doc . . .

3 years ago I came across a band called Red Wanting Blue, one of the top unsigned bands in the country.  12 years, 8 albums, thousands of fans . . . but still no record deal.  Yet they keep going, and going, refusing to give up.  And let me tell you, if you think the life of an actor is hard, it ain’t nothing compared to the lives of 4 guys climbing the ladder of the music industry (just wait until you see this footage).

On top of all of this, their music is amazing.  And commercial.  And one day, in the middle of pitching them the idea of writing a musical about a band just like them, I found myself saying, “Think about writing something similar to your story.  What I want is your story.”  And then I realized, I really did want their story, up close and personal, as they change tires in negative 45 degree weather in Montana and pee in jars to save time in the back of their freezing cold van as they tour the country reaching for the brass ring of a record deal.

So we’re filming it.

This Sunday, the band is headlining at The Mercury Lounge in New York City.  I’ll be rockin’ out in the audience myself this weekend, so come . . . and you’ll get a chance to see some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met.

Oh, and I’ll buy you a drink.

Click here for more info.

“How do I find a Producer for my show?”

Writers often ask me how they should go about finding a Producer.

The search for Producers is not unlike actors looking for agents. Sure, you can send in unsolicited manuscripts like an actor sends in headshots, and hope that yours falls into the right hands.  But the chances of that happening are the same as winning the lottery . . . twice in a row.

The best way to get a script through the door is through a recommendation.  Have someone else that the Producer knows (and respects) be your mule and march the script across the border of the Producer’s office for you.

Even better than that is getting your show up on its feet.  Plays and musicals were meant to be performed, not read.  So get them up and get people there, by any means necessary.

The other thing I tell writers is not to worry so much about getting a Producer on board early.  If you’ve got one, great, but if not, don’t sweat it.  I know it may seem like a Producer is an answer to all of your administrative and financial problems, but that’s not the case.  That’s like saying a babysitter is better at taking care of your child than you are.

So, I tell writers the same thing I tell those actors looking for agents.  Just keep doing great work and the right people will take notice.  When you are ready for an agent or a producer, one (or several) will be banging down your door begging for the chance to work with you..

Isn’t it better to have people begging than begging yourself?