Don’t ask for it back.

I get a lot of submissions.  Scripts, CDs, headshots, etc.  I take the time to go through every one.

Every once in awhile, someone asks me for their materials back if I send them a note saying their project is not for me.

Bad idea.

Sending materials to someone is like trying to plant a mine deep inside enemy territory.  Yes, it’s true, it might not blow up when you want.  But let it lie dormant.  You never know when it’ll go off.

Example:

I got a demo of a musical about 10 years ago that I thought had potential.  They never got the piece finished from what I remember.

Flash forward 10 years.  I was digging through old CDs and bingo, there it was.  I popped it in and remember how much I enjoyed it.  Then I looked at the composer’s name, which I had forgotten.

Well, would you look at that!  The composer was a guy that just so happened to be having a reading of a new musical a couple of weeks from now and his agent had just sent me an invite!  I was originally going to skip it, but not anymore!  All because of that old CD.

I also often pass scripts and CDs to my staff, director friends, other producers, etc. who may be looking for new material and may have different tastes as well.  Just because it’s not for me, doesn’t mean it’s not for anybody.

Truth?  Yes, I do recycle some scripts as well.  But take the chance.  I know that CDs and binding are expensive, but it’s an investment.

If you ask for it back?  There’s no chance it’ll blow up.

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.

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