Serials are killers.

First of all, a little back story . . .

I don’t really watch television anymore.  I’ve missed out on so many great shows over the years, that I’m catching up, series by series, and watching at my own pace.

Translation?  I just started Season 3 of 24.

If you’re a 24 fan (and I have to admit, I’m semi-obsessed, having changed my ringtone to the CTU ringtone, and I’ve be known to greet callers with, “This is Bauer”), then you know that each episode ends on a super-duper sometimes melodramatic cliffhanger.

The goal of the cliffhangers are twofold:

  • Get you to tune in next week (or in my case, just play the next episode on my Netflix/Wii Play Instantly).
  • Get you to talk about it “at the water cooler” the next morning.

Great television “serials” can do just that.

So why can’t we do serials in the theater?

I’ve seen several mini-attempts over the years, mostly Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway.  There have been a few different live soap operas, and there’s even a live Sex-and-the-City-ish serial sitcom running right now that’s been getting a bit of buzz, called Naked In A Fishbowl.

The reasons why the serial has never stuck are pretty obvious:

  • It’s hard enough getting people off their couches and in an uncomfortable theater seat once a month, never mind every week.
  • Our tickets are much more expensive than Free TV or even Netflix/Will Play Instantly, so serial theatergoing would become an expensive habit.
  • Rehearsal costs of a new show every week would eat away at any potential profit in a theater with a fixed number of seats.
  • If an audience member misses one episode, you are never getting them back.

All of these reasons, and a zillion more, are why they don’t work in the theater (Even the ladies in Fishbowl are taping each episode, so they’ve obviously got their sights set on another medium).

Then again, I would’ve bet that a 12-hour staged adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel wouldn’t work either, and somehow Demons sold out all of their performances.

There’s an audience for everything, but whether it is sustainable is another story.

And we’ve yet to see that story succeed in the theater.

And yes, that’s a challenge.

I found a great writer. Now what do I do?

Yesterday we talked about where you can go to find writers who will put your idea for a Broadway or Off-Broadway (or Off-Off Broadway) show on paper.

But once you find that writer (or writers), then what do you do?  Here are four tips on what to do with that writer once you find him or her.

1.  Think twice.

The first thing you should do before jumping into bed with a writer is to give it a second thought and get a third opinion.  You’re marrying this writer.  Sure, you can always get divorced (see below), but that’s just going to make things more difficult later on (and more expensive), and more importantly, it’ll slow down the development of the piece.  You want to make sure that this writer is exactly what you are looking for. Don’t compromise, especially if the idea for the show came from your head.  It’ll drive you crazy to sign somebody up only to find out that he/she is not as passionate about the idea as you, or if they want to take it in a different direction than you do.

2.  What’s the deal?

Are you commissioning the writer?  In other words, are you paying him or her a fee to write your idea?  Upfront commission fees can range from a few hundred bucks to several thousand, depending on the reputation of your writer, and how badly they want to work on your project.  Commissions are especially common in the non-profit world, but creative commercial producers can and should use this tool as well.

When you do commission a writer, make sure you protect your creative contributions as well.  Most playwrights are going to ask that they own the final product (unless you can pay a significant upfront fee), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a piece of future income due to the writer(s) (and perhaps a credit as well) for being the creative impetus for the project.

Maybe you don’t want to commission, but instead you want to collaborate, which will put you more into the creative mix.

(Red Flag Alert:  When negotiating, be wary of writers who are only after high up-front advances or fees.  Sometimes this is a sign that they are not as interested in the project, and that they don’t believe that they will see a lot of long-term royalties (which is why they want guaranteed income up front)).

There are a thousand different ways to get a writer on board, and I strongly recommend you speak to a lawyer or someone who has hired writers before to get an idea of what will work best for your unique situation.  At  the end of the day, you want a deal that works well for both parties.

And don’t just try and get the writer to sign on board for nothing.  Giving people a little money makes them feel better about working on a project, and also makes them more beholden to their boss (that’s you!).

3.  Set deadlines.

Establish clear deadlines from day one for the development of the piece.  When is the first scene due?  When is the first Act due?  Completed script?  First reading?  Map out a developmental course, have the writer agree to it, and then make ’em stick to it.  Sure, you may have to adjust deadlines along the way, but having a mutually agreed upon plan will guarantee that more work gets done, and faster.

4.  If it’s not working out, make a change.

If the script isn’t coming together the way that you had envisioned it in that theater in your mind, then fire the writer, and move on.  Yes, it may cost you some bucks . . . but how much will it cost you in the long run if the idea that gets on stage isn’t the one you wanted written?  Now add in the mental anguish and more you’ll experience by working with someone for years when you don’t see eye to eye.  Now that’s expensive!  This is where theater producers need to be more like movie producers.  If the writer isn’t working, then find another one.  Period.  You owe it to your idea.  If you don’t make that change, you’ll always wonder what if . . .

Finding and hiring a writer is hard.  It’s one of the hardest things that a creative producer will ever have to do.  But it should be.  Because it’s the most important thing a creative producer will ever have to do.

It’s like building your dream house.

You can find the lot, and you can list all the features that you want . . . a big porch, a 3 car garage, a jacuzzi tub.  But it’s up to someone else to build that house, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing, and make sure it doesn’t fall down after a few months.

10 Simple Steps To Start Internet Marketing Your Show.

You’re probably smart enough to know that the internet is where you’re supposed to be if you’re trying to market your show.

But are you smart enough to have started?

If you are one of those Producers or Playwrights who always meant to get around to understanding the internet but haven’t quite got around to it, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  I know a bunch of players in the Broadway arena who still haven’t picked up the ball yet.  

To help you get into the game, I consulted with my web-guru, Jamie Lynn Ballard (who makes all of my sites so pretty), and we came up with the following 10 Simple Steps to Start Internet Marketing Your Show.  These tips work for Broadway shows, Off-Broadway show, Off-Off Broadway shows and everything in between.  In fact, this list is even more helpful for the smaller shows.  Apply the majority of these tips and you can make your show seem a lot bigger than it is.

Ready?  Here we go.

 

10 Simple Ways to Start Internet Marketing Your Show

1. Buy Your Domain Name

You’ve heard me say this before, but this is the most important thing you can do when you start plans for a show.  As soon as you have an idea, make sure you snatch up the domain, because if you don’t, someone else will.  Use a site like GoDaddy that sells domains and hosts websites, so you can buy and build in the same place.  And get a starter site for your show up as fast as you can.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the relevant info yet.  The sooner you can put up your site, the sooner it will show up in search engines, and that means free traffic.   

2.  Know SEO

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is one of the most important things you can learn about internet marketing.  Do it right, and you’ll stand out like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput.  Ignore it, and you’ll fall to the bottom of the web sea.  What you should know is that as technical as it sounds (why are all acronyms scary?), there are basic strategies that are very simple, so don’t be scared.  Pick up a book and get started.  

3.  Build Your List

I’ve spoken on three internet marketing panels in the last six months and in the wrap up section one panelist always said, “The most important thing a web marketer can do is increase the quantity and the quality of his/her opt-in list.”  Email Marketing allows you to build relationships with fans, promote your show, sell tickets and more.  Put a sign-up box on your website to collect email addresses, and send occasional emails to your list with information and updates about your show to keep them engaged.  Use a company like Benchmark to make it easier for you (Constant Contact is so 2005).  It seems so old school, I know, because this is what internet marketers were telling everyone ten years ago, but let me tell you first hand, that an effective marketing email blast is one of the most important tools you have in your show’s marketing tool box.

4.  Invest in PPC

PPC, or Pay-Per-Click Advertising, is one of the most economical and low-risk ways for you to reach customers.  If you aren’t yet ranking high in Google organic search results (and even if you are), pay-per-click advertising gives you a way to appear alongside the sites that are.  Don’t have a lot of cash to spend?  Don’t worry, Google Adwords and other PPCers let you set a cap on how much you want to spend per day.  Tip:  PPC works best when you have a very specific target demographic (e.g. bachelorette parties for The Awesome 80s Prom).  PPC can get pretty involved when you start talking Quality Scores, etc., but it’s worth learning, because it can put butts in the seats and bucks in the box office fast.

5.  Be Social.

Create profiles for your show on social networking sites, like BroadwaySpace, Facebook, and Youtube (if you have video content). Your presence on social media sites may or may not help you sell tickets right away, but if that’s where your audience hangs out, your show should, too.  Make sure you keep these sites filled with content.  No one likes an outdated social networking page.  It’s like the guy on your block who never cuts his lawn.

6.  Tie Your Sites Together With Twitter.  

Twitter is the twine of social media.  By using this microblogging site you can quickly communicate with all your fans.  You can also find new ones by prowling the Twitterverse searching for keywords that fit your show (doing Romeo and Juliet? Look for people tweeting “Shakespeare”).  Once you have them in your world, use Twitter to point people to your website, social networking pages, or blog posts.

7. Blog

In addition to providing you with another channel to interact with your audience, blogs are search engine magnets.  Pick a topic, sign up to a blog site like Typepad, and start blogging.  Keep SEO strategies in mind as you go.  Oh, and remember one thing.  Before you start, eat your fiber.  Your blog doesn’t have to be updated hourly or daily, but it does have to be regular.  Think of it like a daytime talk show.  Every day, same time, same network . . . yours.

8.  Be Your Own Press Agent.

Write and publish articles and press releases about your own shows.  Publish your stuff with sites like GoArticles or EzineArticles, and take it to the next level with a site like PRWEB.  PRWEB allows you to submit your news releases to search engines, news sites, content syndicators, and RSS feeds.  This is one of the fastest ways to increase incoming links (or ‘link population’), which will improve your credibility with the search engines.

9.  Analyze This!

The #1 rule of marketing is to test and then test again.  Just like in grade school, you didn’t know how you were doing until you saw your report card, right?  Get your web report card by signing up for Google Analytics.  Analytics is a free service that allows you to track and analyze your web traffic so that you can judge the effectiveness of your marketing initiatives and understand how visitors found you, what they like about your site, what they don’t like about your site, and what you can do to keep them coming back.  If you’re not looking at your metrics, it’s like going through school without ever knowing if you passed or failed.  You can’t get better without someone telling you how you’re doing.  Let Google school you.

10.  Be Submissive.

Search engines can be old-fashioned, and sometimes they like a formal introduction. If you’ve got a new site, take the time to submit it to search engines.  Hit the major ones (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), of course, but take the time to look for specialized link directories and niche sites to submit your website for indexing.

 

For specific tips on starting a theater blog, click here.

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