Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Talk about greedy bastards...

Talk about chutzpah!

One way for playwrights to get their plays produced is to enter festivals. Numerous theatres around the world stage festivals and invite playwrights to enter their work. Often, if your play is selected you’re required to waive your license fee. These are non-profit theatres, in many cases we’re talking ten-minute plays so the fees are not substantial, and it’s an opportunity to have your work produced and establish a relationship with that theatre, which might come in handy for future work. Another downside is that you’re generally competing with 300 other writers for eight or ten slots so you better brace yourself for rejections.

But clearly the playwright doesn’t make much money, if any. In fact, entering these competitions can cost them money. Some theatres require a submission fee. They usually range from $10-$20 and are sometimes waived if you’re a Dramatists Guild member or college student. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but still – you’re charging people who aren’t exactly raking it in, and if you enter a bunch of contests those submission fees add up.

This is the same scam where casting directors charge actors to enter showcases. Struggling actors can least afford it, and if you’re a casting director it’s your JOB to watch showcases and discover new actors.

I tend to weigh whether the fee is worth it for each specific festival. Is it a prestigious theatre? Is it in a major theatre city? Do they have a good reputation? A great acting company?  Certain festivals I’ll pay to enter and others I won't. 

And now comes along “The Neil Simon Festival” held in Cedar City, Utah. Registration is now closed but they wanted – are you ready? -- $150 to enter your full-length script.



Here’s what you get for your $150. NO money if your play is accepted. The winner receives a six-day staged reading and the following year a full production of three whole performances. Whoo hoo!  Who knows the quality of actors in Cedar City, Utah, not to mention directors? They do pay for your transportation and housing when you’re there for the festival. (That could be a Greyhound bus and they’ll “leave the light on for ya.”) Oh, and all writers get a critique of their play. Who knows how good the readers are in Cedar City, Utah?

Needless to say, they don’t get 300 entries. They’ve gotten 30. The festival organizer says that high fee has helped weed out the bad scripts. Uh… no. I would think it’s quite the opposite. Anyone who believes in their work isn’t going to waste their money with these idiots. But the desperate playwright who’s been rejected a gazillion times might enter because with so few others in competition he might finally score a win.

Clearly, the goal is not to mount the best play; it’s to make as much money as they can from struggling playwright.

So again I say: FUCK YOU.

This festival has been going for about ten year, but this new insulting submission fee is new. Gee, I wonder whether they would have done it while Neil Simon was still alive. I’m guessing no because I’m also guessing that Neil Simon’s response to this would be…


I did not enter a play in this festival. Nor will I ever. The only way I’d ever allow this organization to stage one of my plays is if they pay me $150… for every performance. And even then I might just say…



The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Neil Simon once wrote, "It was a limited engagement. When they stop coming, I limit the engagement."

With this definition this festival will become a limited engagement.
They've pissed off their supply of new material, and thus new fan base.

By the way, I looked it up... Cedar City is Also the home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Which reminds me of another Neil Simon line, "I don't like to see Shakespeare in a theater. I like to see Shakespeare in the park."

E. Yarber said...

It's par for the course. While its fair for a festival to charge nominal processing rates to offset the effort of evaluating material, LA is full of grifters preying on wannabes with outrageous "service fees," realizing that some would-be writers and actors will mistake paying a lot of money for getting something in return.

At one point I used to evaluate scripts for anyone, charging only slightly more than I took from the studios (the extra charge was for my time advising the writer in addition to my notes). It was generally a futile effort, since the scripters weren't interested in reaching a professional level of quality but had the idea I was some sort of talent scout who would pass their work on to my other bosses. I always tried to make it clear I could only help them prepare their work to get past the usual flaws that killed spec submissions. I recently mentioned having to endure rich kids who thought their money was enough for me to hand them a career though their work was self-indulgent doodling.

Bad as this situation already was, I wound up also having to deal with a guy who kept referring no-hopers to me. I'd generally have one meeting apiece with these folks and end by explaining that I couldn't do anything for them because they were determined to stick with their amateur efforts as they already were. The guy who brought them to me couldn't understand why I didn't reel them in bit by bit, keeping their hopes up while sucking more cash in over a period of time, like a professional psychic who offers more insight into the mark's future if they'll just return for further consultation. I've walked from a couple of obviously exploitive situations like that.

I understand the importance of getting your work seen, but paying through the nose for acting showcases or bogus festivals is no better than resorting to vanity press publishing. The goal is for people to pay YOU, and if you're good enough someone will realize your work can make more money from the studios than you could ever manage to shell out personally.

Anne in Rockwall, TX said...

Don't hold back Ken, tell us how you really feel!

Steve Bailey said...

Ken, I'd like to go out on a limb here. My method might not work for everyone in every town, but it worked for me in Jacksonville, FL.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to stop shining my light under a bushel barrel (or whatever cliche you want) and actually get noticed. I wrote an original play and sent copies of it to local theaters. A local nightclub/restaurant that wanted to do some original plays let me do it, and all they asked was the profits for their nightly dinner menu -- I got to keep all the ticket money. I ended up doing 3 other plays under similar arrangements with local theaters before I finally got my "Neil Simon" bug out of my system.

I always say, if anyone has a creative bug, do whatever it takes to get your work performed or shown or whatever. It can be tough going, but it might actually pay off eventually.

Andrew said...

I'm surprised they can get away with this. Did Neil Simon's family or estate give them permission to use his name? I can't imagine he would have endorsed such a festival, for all the reasons you give. One cease-and-desist letter could end his name being misused in such a way. (But there's a chance permission was given.) Someone should hire a good lawyer.

Dana King said...

I know it's not Friday, but this bring brings to mind a recent post by David Simon (THE WIRE, HOMICIDE, TREME) about "packaging" that I wonder if you have any thoughts on.

Here's the link: https://davidsimon.com/but-im-not-a-lawyer-im-an-agent/

ODJennings said...

Your prospects for getting a star on the Cedar City Walk of Fame will dim considerably after word of this little outburst reaches them.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I had a whole tirade written and then accidentally deleted it. I don't feel like rewriting it, so here's the summary.

Yes Ken, your arguments seem reasonable.

Nothing in Hollywood is free. It's not just plays. Trying to get an improv group or sketch show on stage anywhere costs big bucks. Plus, you'll probably have an awful time slot.

Many years ago the Screen Actors Guild supposedly cracked down on those "pay to play" casting director showcases. Based on what you wrote they must be back.

Maybe Cedar City, Utah isn't Broadway West, but then who would have ever imagined that Park City, Utah would have such clout in the movie industry.

By the way Ken, it that drawing of Neil Simon one of yours? There's no signature. But, it is very similar in style to your radio station promotion in a previous blog.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Cedar City also hosts the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Among its productions will be "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Newsies".

What's in a name? Indeed.

Colin Stratton said...

I don't approve of your fucking language!

Colin Stratton said...

Now you know how I feel when the cigarette companies raise their prices after a tax hike from either the state or the Feds!

Dr Loser said...

Well, the organiser's name is Dick Bugg. Not to mention that the festival is in nowhere's-ville, Utah. Nothing to see here, ladies and gentlemen ... please clear the sidewalk.

I might possibly feel sorry for the eejits who stump up the money, but in the general scheme of things it's no more of a waste than spending a lifetime waiting tables in LA with a punctured dream and a total lack of talent. Possibly less, in fact. It's a one-off stupidity.

But still. Dick Bugg. I am intrigued. I understand that his parents had an unfortunate penchant for Dick, but we live in modern times. Even a Mormon is allowed to change his surname by deed poll to something less wretched than "Bugg."

(I have always wanted to change my name to Ms Deed Poll. Perhaps now is the moment to go for my dream. I might even become the next Marvel Superhero, aimed at virtue-signalling dyslexics who can't quite work out whether it's a sequel, but would like more female superheroines anyway)

scottmc said...

At the moment I am watching 'The Most Unforgettable Characters' episode on TV LAND. The opening scene between Radar and Col.Potter discussing the Las Vegas Writer's School always makes me smile. And the names 'Jerry Steinbeck'.'Ethel Hemingway' and 'Eunice O'Neil' were perfectly selected.

Arthur Mee said...

Don't blame you at all for giving this festival a hard pass.

The artistic director's name is Peter Sham. A little on the nose, don't you think?

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Ken, thanks for looking out for us amateur screen/playwrights. :-)

But, I just gotta add re "leavin' the light on for ya," most of the overnight stays I've made in my life were at Motel 6. Maybe I'm just lucky but I never had a bad experience.

(Although, I like the jokes made about them over the years. I still remember when Jimmy Swaggart got caught soliciting a hooker at their location in Indio in the 1980s, and Johnny Carson's monologue joke that an evangelist should have known better than to stay at Motel 666.)

Coram_Loci said...

"Anyone who believes in their work isn’t going to waste their money with these idiots."

Why so sure?

"But the desperate playwright who’s been rejected a gazillion times might enter because with so few others in competition he might finally score a win."

Why not be confident AND score a win at just the cost of 150?

Moreover, why such all-or-nothing thinking?
Some people super-duper believe in their work.
Some people super-duper do not.
And some people teeter on a ledge in between. For those people an entry fee, a price, acts as push off the ledge.
How many people are on that ledge and were pushed off? {Shrugging shoulders}

I know that I've tinkered with show ideas. But that's all its ever been: tinkering. A scheme like this one forces some people to put their money where their mouth is. People like me keep quiet as we fall off the aforementioned edge.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

E. Yarber: I think you might need to update the swipe at "vanity publishing". *Self*-publishing is actually quite a solid going concern for a fair number of people.


E. Yarber said...

I realize that some people are making money going straight to e-books, but there are also YouTube and Instagram celebrities with larger audiences than Billy Wilder or John Ford ever saw, and I know which ones I'm going to watch and emulate. Book stores won't carry publish-on-demand titles because there's a serious problem with the quality control of such stuff.

I may be a snob, but I'm old school enough to think a title needs vetting and editing. Look at the acknowledgments at the back of any published book and you'll find dozens of people who played a role in helping the author see the project through. When an editor had to drop out of one of my projects because of a family crisis, a couple of guys tried to talk me into self-publishing my raw draft, but I knew it would not be up to any standard I would ask people to pay money for.

Publishers (and movie studios) may put out plenty of tripe, but at least there's some sort of filtering process, imperfect though it may be. If someone is happy self-publishing, more power to them, but I have hitched my wagon to a completely different system and can't pretend to be crazy about the alternatives. "Live and let live" is the best I can manage.

cadavra said...

This also applies to film festivals. A struggling young director has to scrape every penny together to finish his/her film, and then finds that to submit it to a festival (the best place for it to get attention) requires a fee of anywhere from $50 to $100. So theoretically one could pay a thousand bucks (that they'd likely have to borrow) to submit it to ten festivals and wind up flushing it all if he/she gets ten rejections. A total scam, if you ask me.

Artie in Sin City said...

Now Ken...Tell us how you REALLY feel about THIS festival...