Saturday, November 29, 2008

You Gotta Get a Gimmick: Good Storytelling as a Gimmick (Ruminations on Making It, Part 3)

I once had someone look at a work I wrote and said, “I don’t think there is a market for this sort of thing anymore. Even if you found someone to produce it, who would see it?”

The sad part is, I knew that from the moment I started writing the play. My reasoning was that if the show was funny enough, the characters endearing enough, the plot executed well enough, then its quality would rise above marketability. That is, the quality of the show would give advertising folks enough to work with to promote the show to find an audience.

Hollywood has become an industry obsessed with marketability, and its movies show it. You have an idea, and you boil it down to a tag line, “This” meets “That,” complete with a target audience and popular appeal.

Sometimes in the malls near my home, there will be people at booths asking me to preview movie previews to give my perspective. The last one was for the Jason Biggs and Isla Fisher comedy Wedding Daze. I was asked plenty of questions focused on the appeal of the actors, images I remembered, my perceptions, the likelihood I would see the movie. Who knows how many thousands of people around the country saw that same preview and gave similar feedback. And yet, the movie still hasn’t made it to theaters. I later read about it in Entertainment Weekly, and it has apparently been sitting on studio shelves for a few years.

All that work on marketability, and no one even cares.

Broadway has taken on the same perspective. A year ago, there was all this talk about the 90-minute musical, looking for a show with a unique hook, something to set the show apart. Maybe I’m still new to this whole Broadway thing, but getting good reviews might be the best place to start. We recently lost two shows I was really wanting to see—A Tale of Two Cities and 13—one was traditional, one was unique, both got weak reviews, and neither lasted to Tony season.

The best works, the ones that last, in the end, have something far better than marketability, uniqueness, or “it” factor. They have great stories, and in the case of musicals, great stories that are told through great music.

the Broadway Mouth
November 29, 2008


WarsawWriter said...

Well, the problem with both TOTC and 13 goes beyond reviews. Neither was up to par. Music and lyrics to TOTC were just not good - sometimes surprisingly bad coming from someone trained at BMI. And 13 from the beginning was a bad marriage between writer and subject. Jason Robert Brown writes sophisticated adult music - so why would he want to write for 13 year olds? It didn't work.

Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested in another “Tale of Two Cities Musical” that is wending its way to Broadway (Perhaps via Boston). This one has a distinctively low budget so far but a very singable score and an engaging book. You might want to check out some of the songs.

Bob Littlefield