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.)

Favorite Quotes: Volume II

“If they don’t let you in the front door, go down the chimney.”  – James L. Nederlander 

Persistence is the key to making it in any industry.  But Jimmy Jr. is right.  You can’t just keep pounding on the door waiting for someone to open it.  Even if they did finally open it, can you imagine how annoyed they would be?

There’s always another way in.  Find it.

Numbers are hot.

So here’s a few to spice up your weekend:

Let’s look at Tony Award nominees and winners of the two big categories, Best Musical and Best Play, and their corresponding reviews in the New York Times over the last 11 seasons (since 1997).

BEST MUSICAL NOMINEES
                    BEST PLAY NOMINEES

Positive Reviews             40%                  Positive Reviews        68%
Mixed Reviews                30%                  Mixed Reviews          16%
Negative Reviews           30%                   Negative Reviews       16%

BEST MUSICAL WINNERS                      BEST PLAY WINNERS

Positive Reviews             64%                  Positive Reviews        82%
Mixed Reviews                18%                  Mixed Reviews          18%
Negative Reviews           18%                   Negative Reviews       0%

What does all this mean?  Does the New York Times favor plays?  Are Tony voters voting with The Times or because of The Times?  Do reviews not matter for musicals looking to be nominated for a trophy, or is it just that the lower numbers of new musicals means easier nominations?

What does it mean?

That’s for you to decide.

Any accountant, comptroller or high school kid with a pirated copy of Excel can deliver you a set a good looking numbers.

It’s a Producer’s job to figure out what they mean.  And when you do, it’s not hot. It’s beau-tastic.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering (and you should be, because data is only as good as its source), we used the Variety Pro/Con/Mixed meter to determine the status of the reviews.)

He’s just not that into you.

When I recommended books, I forgot one:  the famous dating manual for “20-plus career women”.

The theory behind the book is simple.  Someone doesn’t call?  He’s just not that into you.  Someone keeps telling you they are busy?  Just not that into you.  Someone dating 17 other people of different sexes?  JNTIU.

This is an important lesson for 20-plus producers as well.

Want an investor to come to a reading and they aren’t responding to your postcards, emails and phone calls?  Want an actor to do your show and they blow off the audition?  Want the rights to a book and the agent never calls you back?  Sorry, but they are all just not that interested.

So what do you do?  Do you give up?  That’s sounds very anti-Ken, right?

You don’t have to give up, but you do have to invest your time and emotion wisely.  Why spend hours going after the same investor who isn’t responding when you can use the time to find others that might.  Why want an actor who disrespects your project by blowing off the audition?  Do you think his attitude will get better when you are in rehearsals?  Why start a negotiation with an agent if they’ve already made you feel like a call from them is a call from above?  They’ll get you to give away the store without even trying.

There will always be other investors, other actors, other projects, and yes other men (and women) that WILL be into you.

I know, you think that this investor, actor or project is “the one”, right?  Fine.  You can still be open to a relationship with them, as long as you’re OK if that relationship never materializes.  And most importantly, don’t let the fantasy of a future relationship slow you down.

For example:  I have the rights to Somewhere In Time.  What you don’t know is that they were denied to me the first time I asked.  After some post-rejection healing, I let go and pursued other things.  But once a year, in January, I sent the author a “Happy New Year” fax with an update on what I was doing.  It took five minutes to write, once a year.  No commitment and no expectations.

Four years later, and with a few shows under my belt, he called me.

When I answered the phone, I felt like a fourteen year old girl who had been asked to the Prom . . . by Zac Efron.

Finally, he was into me.  And it took me moving on for it to happen.

“Tawk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic.”

Here’s a quickie Coffee Talk question for you:

Why is it that in popular music the singer of the song is referred to as the author of the song?

For example, why is it on American Idol (not that I’m watching it or anything) you hear contestants say, “I’m going to sing ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears.”

You never hear someone say, “I’m going to sing ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ by Max Martin.

Can you imagine if it was that way in the theatre?

“Hi , Simon, Randy and Paula.  I’m going to sing ‘This Is The Moment’ by Robert Cuccioli.”

Something tells me that Frank Wildhorn, who has been on both sides of this discussion (‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ by Whitney Houston) might have a problem with this.

Or what about, “Hi snotty British guy, big guy no one knows, and ex-80s star on too much prescription medication.  I’m going to sing “Pretty Women” by Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman.”

Sacrilege to our Shakespeare!

Our Authors get more respect here.  Because they deserve it.

And frankly, Max Martin deserves it too.  With all due respect to those battling mental craziness and psycho-pseudo managers (and also on too much prescription medication), he is more talented than the “artist” he helped create.

Ooooh, there’s another question!  Why are the performers called artists and the scribes called writers?  Aren’t the writers artists too?

There you go.  As Ms. Myers would say . . . “Discuss.”

Oh, and why are Simon’s teeth so white?  Every time he smiles I feel like that girl in Poltergeist and I want to start walking towards them!  (Ok, I am watching – but this is my first season!)

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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