WARNING to all underlying rights holders: Look at our history.
Last week, I talked about how we’re in what I call The Independent Theater Era on Broadway (and actually – the embrace of Once On This Island by audiences and critics that I’m oh so grateful for, further proves the point).
It’s our audience’s current appetite for originality, as well as the history of our biggest hits, that have me a bit perplexed as of late when it comes to the demands I’m seeing from some underlying rights holders who have been approached about a musical adaptation of their work.
Let me back up.
In case you’ve never heard that term before, an “Underlying Rights Holder” is anyone who is in control of a property that is being adapted for (in our world) a theatrical treatment. For example, the author of a novel, a movie company, the controller of a musical catalog, etc.
And when approaching one of these URHs, you cut deals for dollars, approvals, billing, etc.
Now, of course, the URH is in complete control and can, and should, ask for whatever he/she/it wants, especially if they could care less about a musical or play ever being made (Negotiating Tip! The best negotiators are the ones who don’t give a @#$% if the deal happens or not).
But if they do want a deal to happen, then they should take another look at the requests they’re making.
Because just look at some of the biggest hits of the last few years:
Dear Evan Hansen – based on an original story
Come From Away – based on history and interviews
Hamilton – yes, they did base this on a book, but there is an argument to be made that they didn’t have to . . . it’s a treatment of historical facts
And look at the longest running musicals of all time!
I count 50% of the musicals in this category that are either based on public domain material (Phantom, Les Miz) or on other unique source material (A Chorus Line, Disney’s movies – of which the subjects were public domain, and of course, the stage producer is the same as the movie producer, so there aren’t any URH roadblocks).
With a historical 50/50 shot at super-success with original or public domain material, and with the recent trend of what’s hot on Broadway, these URH (or more specifically, their lawyers) should tread lightly when asking for too much control if they want to participate in the current Broadway gold rush.
Because I’ve been hearing Producers grumble lately that adapting something not only costs more, but ties a creative noose around your neck (too many approvals, often from people who have never created a musical before), and it just takes a heck of a lot longer.
And as a result, more and more (including me) are just starting to walk away.