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.?” (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).
  • 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.

_ _ _ _

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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Get Lost!

I got lost over the weekend while driving through Columbus, Ohio (I was scouting for a documentary that I’m producing and directing, but more on that later).

While I was trying to figure out how an interstate that ran East and West could all of sudden run East and South, I realized two things:

1.  I’m buying a GPS.

2.  Getting lost is OK.

Sure, I was an hour late and lost my voice screaming at the Lord of the Highways, but I still made it to my destination.

Whenever you’re lost, you always end up getting to your destination eventually, don’t you?  You never just pull over and say, “That’s it.  I’m done. I’m going to sit in my rental car until the scavengers pick over my bones.”  No, you stop, regroup, pick up a McDonald’s fountain Coke, ask for directions, get mad, listen to music, get mad again, call friends for help, and then finally, you make it.

Remember this the next time you’re writing or producing a project and are frustrated that you’re not reaching your deadline on time.

It’s OK to be late . . . The Lord of the Highways knows it took us 4 years to get Altar Boyz right and we took many a wrong turn along the way (remind me to tell you about the time that Abraham’s name was Leonard and Luke was addicted to Vicodin).

Sure we would have liked to have gotten there a lot faster, but making sure you get there is the most important part.

Just ask these guys how happy they were that they didn’t turn around and go home at some point during their 7 year trip.

Sorry for the tease.


In my last blog, I said . . .

“An example of something I just learned from one of the biggest American marketing machines tomorrow.”

And then . . .nothing. 

I received thousands of emails from concerned readers all wondering if I had been kidnapped by Bruce Cohen’s family or if I had caught the same illness that
affected Michael Crawford when he signed on to do Dance of The Vampires
.

I am happy to report that I am fine.  (You can stop sending the thousand emails a day now, Mom.)

Here’s what happened.  I wrote the follow up to that blog that same night and thought I was really cool when I figured out how to automatically post it the next
morning since I was going to be traveling all day.

And, as you know . . . it didn’t work. 

Sorry for that mishap.  I’m re-writing the blog now and it will be up later. Hopefully this version will turn out better anyway.  I had to rewrite my high school graduation address in 1990 when my Commodore 64 crashed, and that worked out OK.

Rewrites generally do.

So the next time that you lose a paper, an email, a version of a script, or a well constructed and almost award winning and publishable blog entry (ok, I’m
exaggerating), take it as a reminder that the key to writing is rewriting.

Sure you can bang your head against the wall and take TypePad’s name in vain . . . or you can just sit back down, stop bitching and make the next one even better.

Or you can use your situation as inspiration to write something brand spanking new.

Like I just did.  Wait a minute. I didn’t mean to do that. That wasn’t my intention when I started this entry.  Dang it!

The follow- up coming soon.  And I mean it this time.   

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