Tag Archives: musical

Why theatre authors are more powerful than screenwriters.

Authors in theatre enjoy privileges and approval rights not held by their screenwriting brethren. Sometimes, this can lead to trouble for producers and playwrights alike.

A recent article at The Guardian asks: “Should a playwright have the final say over a production?. The piece reports on an issue that arose recently when a disgruntled Australian playwright made a very strong statement against a production of his play.

On the opening night of Lachlan Philpott's new play, “Alienation”, the author removed his name from the production, and placed a note on each seat in the theatre declaring, “this production does not reflect my original scripted or communicated intentions as the playwright.”

The producers, the Perth Theatre Company later refuted this in their own statement, essentially calling Philpott's statements “inaccurate and unwarranted”.

But the incident has spurred some in the theatre to reexamine the power and authority of the playwright, and to question whether changes are needed. (if they're possible at all).

Authors' rights in Theatre are far more expansive than in film, television, etc.

Historically, the playwright (or the bookwriter, composer and lyricist of a Musical) has/have been given great deference when it comes to creative matters relating to their work. Under most production contracts, in fact, the author is given a right of approval that is very nearly absolute.

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4 reasons why receiving Producer Credit may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Producerchair4 reasons why receiving Producer Credit may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s a common practice in the entertainment industry. Producers operating on shoestring budgets will, in an effort to secure the property and/or services of talented individuals, ofer them some kind of producer credit in lieu of the usual compensation those people might normally command.

This kind of thing is, somewhat surprisingly, quite attractive to many in the business. Perhaps it’s the prestige of being a producer, or perhaps it’s taken as recognition of one’s value to a project.

But, receiving a producer credit on a film, play, musical or album is often a bad idea. Here are some of the reasons I advise my clients against accepting credit.

The Lead Producer doesn’t have any “skin in the game”

If you’re taking producer credit in lieu of compensation, the lead producer is getting a huge bargain. As such, he (or she) is taking a much smaller risk with the project than would be the case if you were being paid what you’re really worth. And, if there’s less at risk, the lead producer may feel freer to take bigger risks elsewhere, thus leading the project into peril. By contrast, when a producer has money on the line (whether his own or investors’), he’s less likely to take unreasonable risk or maintain untenable positions with the project.

Undervaluation of the recipient’s contribution to the project

If the lead producer isn’t willing or able to pay you an appropriate fee, it should tell you something about the value he or she places on your services. Essentially, the lead producer is telling you, “hey, I don’t think you’re worth what you charge for your services, so let me give you something that doesn’t cost me money, instead.”

More importantly, however, if you’re willing to take less than ‘normal’ compensation, it shows the lead producer and the rest of the world that you think the same way. Your services really aren’t worth what you charge.

Of course, sometimes you’ll get involved with a project you feel passionate about and be willing to discount your fees to be associated with them. And that’s fine. Just be sure you’re discounting for the right reasons.

In my view credit alone shouldn’t be one of them.

Control Issues

Time and again, I’ve seen situations in which a “producer” on a project has absolutely no control. He or she is getting producer credit, but exercises no real authority to influence the direction a project takes. It’s a little like being at the helm of a ship, holding the steering wheel, but not being permitted to turn it to avoid a collision. Without a meaningful degree of control (or at least a right of consultation) producer credit can be pretty meaningless. Even if the film wins major awards, it’s typically only the lead producer and the core producing team that actually benefit from the recognition.

Exposure to Liability

As I’ve written about before here, recipients of producer credit can find themselves in the crosshairs of litigation from angry contractors, unpaid vendors, disgruntled investors, and anyone else with a beef against the project. Being identified as a producer tells the world that you are a person responsible for the production, and everything that flows from it, whether good or bad. It doesn’t matter whether you are really responsible. If someone has a problem, they’ll go after all of the producers. In one recent case, for example, a credited producer with a minority financial interest in a theatrical production (and thus no real control over the project) was held vicariously liable for copyright infringement when the lead producer unilaterally decided not to pay the playwright. He hadn’t, the jury concluded, done enough to prevent the infringement. So, under the principle of joint and several liability, he’s responsible for the entire $250,000 judgment. ( See Keeling v. New Rock Theatre)

Conclusion

So, receiving producer credit may actually be worse than not being involved in a project at all. At the very least, acceptance of such a proposal can send subtle signals about the parties’ valuation of the recipient’s services.

Of course, there are plenty of valid reasons to receive a producer credit. Foremost among these, though, should always be that you’re actually a producer of the project, not a mere figurehead, but wielding real influence over the project, and thus earning the right (and responsibility) of being called “Producer”.

 

Entertainment Law Update Podcast, Episode 33 – Cease and Desist, but nicely

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In this Episode:

  • J. Geils Band Trademark Dispute
  • Two Three's Companys is a crowd
  • Copyright Royalty Board unconsitutional
  • Jack Daniels sends the sweetest cease and desist ever
  • and more…
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Producers beware! Theatregoer sues over canned music and wins!

We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore! A british theatregoer has prevailed in his lawsuit against a theatre that used recorded music in staging its production of “The Wizard of Oz”. In a time of increasingly tight budgets, many theatre groups are opting for recorded musical accompaniment, in lieu of paying for an orchestra, conductor, and… Continue Reading

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