Why did he name it August: Osage County anyway?

I got a sneak peak at a script for August recently, and found something on the first page that I thought you should all see, since it follows up on our discussion on August and on titles:

DEDICATION:

I could never come up with a title as brilliant as August: Osage County.  Mr. Howard Starks, gentleman, teacher, poet, genius, mentor, friend, created that title for an extraordinary poem that is one of the inspirations for my play.  I steal the title with deference, yet without apology – Howard, I’m sure, would have it no other way – and I dedicate this play to his memory.

So there it is . . . arguably one of the worst titles since Flahooley for one of the best plays of the last decade was the title of a poem that inspired the author.

This reminded of the origin of another title . . .

When I was negotiating for the rights to Somewhere In Time, I discovered that the original title of the book was Bid Time Return, from a Shakespearean verse.  I asked the author why he changed it when the book became a movie.

He looked at me like I had two heads and half a brain between them.

“That’s a big change,” I said, “why did you do it?”

“Simple.  The movie company tested the title.  It came back 100% negative.  So we had to come up with something else.”

The something else turned out to be Somewhere In Time, which was suggested by the wife of the Producer.

Should someone have tested August before it opened?

Is it appropriate for a Producer to meddle in such matters that are “artistic” in nature?

Should Broadway be as calculating and “cold” as Hollywood?

Should playwright deals mimic screenwriter deals to allow us greater control, even though at a greater financial cost?

These are all questions that you’ll have to answer as you develop your own style.

John Grisham is rich and famous.

But that’s not why he started writing.

John Grisham wrote his first novel with no dreams of making $9 million a year, or of selling 235 million copies of his books worldwide, or of having six baseball fields on his property.

John Grisham wrote his first novel why?  So he could say he wrote a novel.  That’s all.  He just wanted to be able to point to a stack of white paper on his desk and say, “Look!  I wrote a novel.”  He ran across a subject that he felt needed to be written, so he wrote it, even though he had never written before.

He wrote it by getting up at 5 AM every morning for three years, while he was working 60 – 80 hours a week as a state representative.

When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important.  The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My
office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office,
with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at
5:30, five days a week.”  His goal: to write a page every day.
(CNN.com)

Anybody can write a page a day. If you sit down and write a page a day, do you know what you’ll have 365 days later? You’ll have a novel!” (Kennesaw.edu)

When he finished that novel, two things happened:

1.  He was rejected by 15 publishers.

2.  He started writing The Firm the very next day.  The movie rights sold before he even found a publisher, and he was on his way.

And now, after all of the success, he still squeezes out a novel a year.

Doing something, anything, to “be famous” or to “be rich” is fine, but it’s not art.  There are a zillion ways to “be famous” or “be rich”, and they’re a lot easier than what we do.

Write, act, produce, design because you have to do it, and for no other reason.  If you’re diligent and harder on yourself than any boss could ever be, all the other stuff will come.

And when it does, you’ll still want to keep doing it, just like John.  Even if you have 12 baseball fields on your property.

If it doesn’t come?  Well, who cares.  Something tells me John Grisham would still be getting up at 5 AM every morning to write, even if he never sold a single copy of his stack of white paper.

The only difference is by now he’d be able to say, “Look!  I wrote 21 novels.”

Anyone out there know what John Grisham and Hal Prince have in common?  Free $25 iTunes gift card to the first “commenter” that comes up with what I’m looking for.

And hey, no “gheating”.  I know you guys so well.

The Lean Forward Factor

I saw Farnsworth on Saturday; a good play made into an even better one because of a little Kenism I like to call, ‘The Lean Forward Factor.’

Like most things that are a significant part of our adult lives, good or bad, the Lean Forward Factor is something I learned as a kid.

One of my first experiences with the LFF was when I saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I was already scared to see it, but then, right when the movie started, a simple text teaser crawled across the screen explaining that what we were about to see was based on a true story.  Gulp!  An actual Leatherface?  Holy crap.  What did I do besides almost pee in my PJs?  I leaned forward.  All of a sudden I was really scared . . . and really involved.

My other childhood LFF experience that would forever change my view of entertainment?  The LittlesThe Littles were a series of kids’ books about people living in the walls.  They had mice tails and were so small they used sewing spools for tables and were always afraid the cat was going to eat them.

When I got to the end of one of the books, I noticed a note from the author buried on the last page.  It said that only he and the illustrator knew the true whereabouts of The Littles, and he had been sworn to secrecy.  Actual little people living in the walls?  What did I do?  I leaned forward.  And I wouldn’t let my cat inside the house for 3 days.

Both of these are classic examples of LFF.  By using a tease of truth, the authors got me much more involved.

Your audience will always be more affected by your work if they think it could affect them personally, or in the case of Farnsworth, if it already has affected them personally (it’s hard not to ahh, when you hear how NBC was formed, or laugh when a character makes a comment about how no one would dirty their living room with an ugly television set).

True crime novels, movies like JFK, musicals like Ragtime, reality television, Shakespeare and even Santa Claus all use LFF to help draw you in and heighten your experience.

How do you use it?

(Ironically, both Chainsaw and The Littles weren’t even being honest . . . but did it matter?  I still get freaked out by Leatherface.  And I don’t have a cat.)

Get Your Audiences To Sing Along.

 

I’m in Ohio this week, shooting a
documentary on one of the top unsigned
bands
in the country. 

We’ve been in the recording studio all
week, as the band finishes up their 8th independent album. This is the one we
all hope will get them the big record deal and have them playing the
“enormo-domes” across the country. 

As the record producer was playing
back one of their future hits yesterday, something happened to me.

I started singing along.

It was like being hynotized.
My mouth just opened, and out came the words and the tune, like I was on
karaoke auto.jpglot.

I didn’t even realize it, until the
record producer stopped the playback.  And I kept singing. (Look out,
Daughtry)

Why did I all of a sudden think I
was a uber-cool American Idol winner? 

The art involved me.
What was created by five guys and their electric guitars and gravelly voices
sucked me into the actual experience.

And what started as an observational
or non-participatory art form, became an interactive one. 

This should be the goal of all
artists. Because the fun begins when the fourth wall disappears.

I’m not saying that every show
should be like Jersey Boys or Mamma
Mia
where the audience IS actually singing and dancing along
(although it has to be noted that both of these shows are monster international
hits).  And all shows don’t have to be like The Awesome 80s Prom where you can dance with the Captain
of The Football Team. 

But all shows do have to pick you up and transport you right into the heart of
the experience, somehow making you believe that you are Daughtry.

Our job is not to put up fourth walls. Our job is to tear them down.

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

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).
  • MOVIE
    • 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.
  • OTHER MEDIUMS
    • 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.

_ _ _ _

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