The 2 shows I would have liked to produce this season

I have Producer envy.

Come on, you do, too.  We all do.

We’ve all seen shows and thought, “Oh man, would I like my name above the title
of that one!”  Maybe we’re jealous of the profits pouring out of the
production. Or maybe we’re jealous of the art that was created.

Or maybe, when the stars align, it’s a little of both.

All of this is why I’m going to start wrapping up each Broadway season with a
post like this one, telling you the Broadway Play and Broadway Musical I wish I would have
produced.

Here goes.

1.  La Cage aux Folles

Admit it.  When this import of La Cage was announced, I was not the only one
that thought, “Ummm, we just saw this sucker.  Do we really need to see it
again?”  Well, ironically, I believe this production benefited from having
been revived only 5-and-a-half years ago, if only to show the contrast between the two
productions.  I enjoyed the previous revival, but I didn’t need to see
another production like that.  But this?  This I’d see again.

This production succeeded at satisfying all of my requirements for a revival,
with the added bonus of the current gay marriage debate in the cultural background. When I saw the audience, the standing ovation seemed to be as much for
the show as it was for the concept that this Family with a capital F was the
kind that we would all be lucky to have.

2.  Fences

At intermission of Fences (which was the first time I took a breath in the
previous hour-and-20-minutes), I tweeted that Denzel received the largest
entrance applause I had ever heard.  It felt like I was at a Bon Jovi
concert . . . And Elvis had just made a surprise appearance.

On top of the excitement and the event-type atmosphere of the production,
Denzel, Viola and the terrific ensemble, led by the Wilson guru, Kenny Leon,
hit a homer that Troy Maxson would have been proud of.

But take away Denzel’s constellation-like status, and this show would still be one of my top two shows of the season.  As the
head of the drama department said when I was at NYU, “When you work in the
theater, it’s hard to enjoy shows, because you’re always dissecting every
element: the acting, the set, the direction.  How I know I love a show is
when I don’t analyze anything.”

At the end of Fences, I just smiled, like I had just eaten a great big juicy
steak . . . with Elvis.

What are the two shows you wish you’d produced this year?

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A star above the title . . . but not how you think.

Last week, in one of the biggest surprise announcements of the year, Elton John and partner David Furnish announced that they were joining the Broadway producing team of Next Fall.

Before this announcement, many of us on the inside were wondering just how Next Fall, which lacks the marquee wattage of a Scarlett or a Denzel, would stand out in the year’s busy Spring season.

Nabbing one of the biggest names in the entertainment industry is one way, that’s for sure.

Celebrity producers have been around before, but ever since Oprah put her name above the title on The Color Purple (which put a lot of butts in the seats), putting the right producer on the right project has become a more sought-after way of gaining attention for our shows.

This fall, Fela! did it with Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith (who have received a little critical drubbing for not stumping for the show like some of their counterparts).  Yet it still got a lot more attention for that show than it could have gotten on its own.

Whoopi Goldberg, who was a producer on Thoroughly Modern Millie, is also a Producer on the London and Broadway Bound Sister Act, which couldn’t make more sense.

Are these celebs investing actual dollars in the show?  Or are they investing the value of their names and their appearance at parties?  Only the show insiders know for sure, but I’d bet it’s a little of both, depending on the project.

And whatever the case, as long as it’s helping attract positive attention for your show and helping you break through the cluttered environment we work in, it’s a win for all parties involved.

So when you’re selling off places above your title, think about other names that might make sense for you and get you in a news cycle.

And it doesn’t have to be the name of a person.

It was no secret that I was interested in moving the magnificent Our Town from Off-Broadway to Broadway last Fall.  One of my ideas was to get a bunch of small New England towns to go above the title.  Imagine . . . Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Brunswick, Maine and Stowe, Vermont present Our Town.  We would have had whole towns behind us!

Got a musical about Ice Cream?  You and Ben and Jerry present . . .

Got a play about Golf?  You and Tiger Woods present . . .

Wait.  Scratch that.  Never mind.

There are more and more places on your production that you can turn into a marketing initiative than you can imagine.  Sometimes they’re just not out in the open.

The great Producers never stop looking for them.

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How does a Broadway Producer get paid?

I wrote a blog in November which stumped for the concept that Producers should receive a portion of Author’s subsidiary rights on shows that have not recouped on Broadway, since it was the Producer’s production that branded the show for subsidiary production in the first place.

I got tremendous positive response from the industry from that blog, including several Producers who said they would be willing to take more risks on Broadway if they knew they would have a guaranteed revenue stream to help keep funding their projects in the future.

I also got a lot of questions from readers wanting to know exactly how Producers were compensated for producing shows on and Off-Broadway, so here’s a blog that breaks downs the bucks (or lack thereof).

There are three main forms of traditional Producer compensation.  They are:

1.  Producer Office Fee

The Office Fee is a flat weekly amount paid to the Producer designed to cover costs associated with maintaining an office needed to run a Broadway show.  If you were the CEO of a company, then your rent, your assistant(s), your copy machine, etc. and all of the things that you need on a daily basis would be taken care of under the company’s overall operating budget.  A Producer’s overhead is not covered by the show’s operating budget, therefore the Office Fee was designed to help offset some of those expenses.  For an Off-Broadway show, the average Producer Office Fee is $1,000/week, but it can range anywhere between $500 – $1,500 week.  On a Broadway show, the average Producer Office Fee is approximately $2,000, but this can vary as well depending on the size of the production. The Producer Office Fee is usually paid to the Producers two weeks prior to the start of rehearsals.  Before that, you’re on your own.

The Producer Office Fee is traditionally split between the Lead Producers of the production.  If there are three Leads, then divide the numbers I’ve specified above by three, etc.  At times, secondary Producers (or other “above-the-title” Producers) also share in a portion of this fee.  In that case, the Producer Office Fee can sometimes be split many, many, ways.  I’ve been on shows where some Producers were getting $62.50/week.

If a show is in trouble, this Office Fee is usually one of the first to be waived.

2.  Producer Royalty

The Producer Royalty is similar to the royalty paid to the Authors or the Designers of the production.  It starts off as a percentage of the gross (customarily about 3%), but usually ends up converting to a percentage of profit through a royalty pool.  There are traditionally minimum royalties paid to everyone in the pool, and a 3% Producer Royalty would usually mean about $702 Off-Broadway and about $3,000 to $4,500 on Broadway per week.  The hope, of course, is that the show is constantly in profit, and that everyone in that pool is paid more than the minimums.

The Producer Royalty is split between Lead Producers as well, just like the Office Fee.  Three Lead Producers who are treated evenly on a $3,000 royalty would get $1k each.  And, usually on the bigger musicals, a portion of that Producer Royalty is split between a bunch of those other names above the title as well.

Unlike the other creatives, however, there is no advance paid on a Producer Royalty and the royalty begins with the first performance.

If the show is in trouble, creative royalties to all participants, including Authors, etc. are usually reduced, waived or deferred pretty quickly.

3.  Profit after Recoupment

This is the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow for Producers.  Before a show has recouped, 100% of its profit (after the royalties specified above) goes to its investors.  After a show pays back its investors in full, profit is treated differently.  First, some folks usually take a sliver off the top (some General Managers, Stars, Authors, etc.), and then the remaining profit is split in two . . . half of which goes to the investors, and half of which gets paid to the Producers.  However, once again, this profit that gets paid to Producers once again gets divvied up, first to the Lead Producers, and then each Lead Producer pays a portion of his or her profit to all of the other big money raisers on the show.  Because the cost of producing Broadway shows is so great, Lead Producers usually “sub-contract” some of their financing, and in exchange for that, they have to give up some of their profit.  But this is the profit that all Producers are praying for, because if you can get a show to recoup, and run for years and years, and spin-off tours and subsidiary companies for years and years, this profit can help provide a financial foundation for your office and help you get future shows off the ground.
In all of the above, you can see how quickly Producer compensation can get diluted, especially if you’ve got a bunch of Producers helping you get your show up (which is becoming more and more the norm).  Now you know why so many Producer’s offices are smaller than the offices of their own vendors!

This dilution has caused the creation of a sometimes utilized fourth income stream known as the Executive Producer Fee and/or Royalty.

The EP Fee is a lump sum payment paid in production to cover the work on a project before it opens.  It can be $10k or $25k on a Broadway show, or whatever is appropriate and “budgetarily” responsible.  The argument for the EP Fee is that every other person on the production team is paid up front, from the Authors to the Director to the Production Assistant . . . so why shouldn’t the Producer be paid?  A CEO is paid, right?  A Managing Director?

The EP Royalty is usually a fixed amount that is paid directly to the Producer during operating weeks that was created in response to the fact that so many Producers had to give up their standard Producer Royalty to their major investors or other above-the-title Producers on the show.
It’s becoming more and more challenging to make money on Broadway as a Producer, as it gets harder and harder to recoup because of escalating costs, and because the traditional compensation streams are being tributized to so many other players.

But it still is possible.

But seriously, I don’t know a single Producer that is in it for the money, and you shouldn’t be either.

I laugh whenever people say that Producers are greedy, and money grubbing, etc.  That is an old stereotype that just doesn’t apply anymore.  Sure, there have always been a few bad eggs in any chicken coop, but if we were really in it for the money . . . we’d be in movies.

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