Film vs. Theatre
Since starting Gorilla Tango Capital we have been approached by quite a few people with various film projects looking for funding. Speaking with these people and learning about their various projects really got me thinking about the current state of film and theatre and how they relate to each other from a sustainability perspective for small, new and/or independent producers.
First let’s set out our basic goal on which we will build our system of evaluation. I, as always, would argue the goal is ongoing financial stability for the producer/producing company. For without this stability a single project could ruin the chances of any other future endeavors and the producer will be banished to a life of the dreaded 9am-5pm humdrum.
The first necessity in gaining financial success from a project is to be able to generate revenue. There are, of course, many other factors that play into creating ongoing fiscally positive endeavors but I think it is safe to say that number one is that indeed the project must be able to create cash flow via a clear and consistent path. At some point someone must give money in exchange for the product whatever it might be (film, theatre, widgets, etc.). If there is no way for a producer to fairly quickly create revenue from their product via an open market, well then that leads me to believe there is no market for this product (or one so restrictive or so small that for all intents and purposes there is none).
If the ability to reach our goal depends on creating cash flow from the product, and this in turn requires a readily accessible market, I find that this - in the case of small, new and/or independent film - to be very difficult if not impossible in almost all cases. Many people are attracted to the bright lights of Hollywood. And, like the bug zappers metaphor that forms in my mind, many a producer [bugs] gets sucked into the glitz and glam without true access to the same markets that Hollywood has. So in their attempts to emulate the Hollywood model at a small level they spend huge amounts of money, time and resources on a single project that is destined to fail if for no other reason (and there may be many other reasons) the producer has no true access to a market at the scale they are operating.
Sure, I know what you are thinking. “Well what about such and such film – that was an independent that became a huge hit and made tons of money – they obviously had access to a large worldwide market.”
This is true – but it’s a numbers game. If you are going to spend $10K, $100K or $1,000K on a production without a very tight connection to the people that can then help you distribute it and the money to market the film on a large scale the odds of successfully becoming one of those breakout independents is very low. I would argue you are better off going to a casino – you will lose your money faster so at least it will have saved you time and effort.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying people shouldn’t produce independent films. I’m just saying with film you must be on a very tight path from concept to completion to have a fighting chance of fiscal success. This chance in most cases costs lots of money and requires the specialized skills of many highly experienced and connected people. So the point is, if you do it, you have to do it right and all at once or you probably are better off not doing it at all from a monetary perspective.
So now what about theatre?
The goal in my opinion is the same: ongoing monetary sustainability so that the producer can continue to create their art and ultimately make a full time living from it and even start a company that can support many people making full time livings.
Theatre sometimes doesn’t have the glitz and glam of the big Hollywood movies, in fact since the birth of film (100 years ago) people have been predicting the death of theatre. Amazingly enough, the theatre producer has persisted and continues to function with a clearer, easier, path than their film producer counter parts. The strongest thing theatre has going is that at all levels (from the illegal basement show to the Broadway spectacular) there is always a market. Each show can find an audience. The path to this audience is not necessarily expensive, or technologically prohibitive. You invite people to your show (this invite can be an email in the case of small productions or a multimillion dollar ad campaign), they give you money, you deliver the product, the transaction is complete. The process is exactly the same regardless of what size production you are doing.
The best part of all this is that a producer can start out as a no-budget production, find an audience that supports them, which gives them the necessary cash flow to build the production into a larger and larger show ultimately ending up at a production level far exceeding where they began. The ability to build an audience and then reinvest the money from that smaller beginning level of success and create a larger version of the product is phenomenal. This happens in all types of businesses. Theatre is just the same as someone selling any product. Happily for theatre producers, the process is exactly the same. It’s the film business (and other businesses with large capital expenses as a barrier to entry) where this type of growth of a single product generally does not happen.
So obviously, theatre really is a remarkable business model. Sure the numbers might not be as huge as they are in next summer’s blockbuster, and the community of theatre folks might not appear on TMZ, but from a business perspective, the ability to make profit, and the ability to grow your company, theatre keeps the odds in the producers’ favor.
Art is Business, Period.Congratulations to me! I believe this is my very first blog entry of any kind. Despite my years of programming and development experience on the internet I never sat down and wrote an article(?) entry(?) post(?) whatever you want to call it. My previous writings have always been in the form of documents of higher-level philosophy courses in an academic environment. I have never entered the fast paced realm of bits and bytes article writing that is so prevalent and inviting to praise and criticism at seemingly the speed of light. Well, it’s probably best that I begin to work now in this new world of experience for me. Here it goes.
When I was asked to write this entry, I was asked to speak on the subject of the artistic as an entrepreneurial business enterprise (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the basis of it). This subject I have quite a bit of experience in and am excited to share my thoughts and the philosophies that guide Gorilla Tango Theatre, my other business ventures and dare I say it, my life in general.
The common perception of art academically, politically and culturally is that it is somehow good or valuable in itself. People living in developed nations (third world and underdeveloped nations perspectives’ on art and business could be an interesting treatise that I will leave for another day - for the purpose of this document I am limiting the scope of application to developed nations only) seem to have a built in preconceived notion of things deemed to be “art”; or the action of making “art”, etc. The word “art” carries weight above beyond the power of all things good. Something to be respected, nurtured and admired no matter what the form, circumstance or sacrifice.
From this rather lofty understanding of art we can derive a view of the “artist”. Someone who believes that what they are doing is good, great and meaningful. Without them to create “the art” a void in culture and society would develop so large that our entire system would break down and all creativity will cease to exist. That life as we know it will turn into a 1984-esque world of black and white realism. The artist is holding us back from the very brink of disaster of the human sprit, mind and experience.
These definitions of art and artist give a creative person who ultimately finds him or herself in the world of art a very difficult task. The activities that they choose to participate in have been elevated to a level beyond mere mortal behaviors and the troubles of daily lives. Thus, the expectations on the individual from the culture around them and from their internal perspectives of themselves makes them inflexible in their ability to adjust to outside stimulation and situation that is affecting their course of action. After all, what they are doing is great no matter what its form or function because they are an artist creating art as defined above. Per this classification there is no need adjust to anything outside of themselves and their art.
At this point you might be asking how does this relate to business and artistic entrepreneurial endeavors? Well, in any type of business the key is creating a product that people want. If no one wants what you are selling then, well, you better find something else to sell. The process of finding a marketable product is a process of trail and error, laser sharp focus and lucky guesses somehow all wrapped into one. Even then over time your marketable product may lose relevancy and certain aspects need to be tweaked, completely overhauled or the product may need to be abandoned all together. That is life and business, a series of births and deaths, we never know how long until the next one.
Now the problem for the artist is they don’t approach their art from this Darwinian understanding of business. They lock into a system of development/artistic expression that is about creating a product that they [the artist] desire to bring into existence not on its ability to stand on its own in the marketplace. Consequently they do not respond to the market forces that should be affecting their product. Non-art businesses, like the artist, can easily fall into these traps as well but for different reasons (that we will leave for another discussion). The reasons of course for the artist to fall into this world of iron fisted inflexibility is because they have been taught (many times formally in academia) and cultured to believe that art is not a business product but something that in itself demands respect, admiration and elevation above other activities. The falseness of the proceeding is why so many artistic ventures are complete and utter failures. Art is a product, a product is produced by business and businesses must adapt to consumer demands to succeed. The artist as a stubborn mule cannot and will not succeed in any business venture.
So where does that leave the artist that has a burning desire to create what they want to create, how they want to create it, void of outside influences? Simple, the same place it leaves the bowler who wants to bowl the perfect game or the kid playing video games 20 times through to see those special closing credits – the world of hobby. Art that does not respond to market forces must be understood by the artist as a hobby. It may have great personal significance but to the rest of society is of utter uselessness and is certainly of no value from a business perspective.
Now, take note that I am by no means putting down the hobby artist. Many times from the hobby bowler comes the professional, the same is true of the artist (and businessman for that matter). It’s just that the artist does him or herself a huge disservice and much time is wasted waiting for an “angel investor” to appear and help them, if they do not realize that the process, costs and burden of becoming the professional falls squarely on them and is not the responsibility of society, institutions or culture as a whole to offer support or encouragement in any form along the path.
Long story short, get ready to adapt constantly and get your teeth kicked in over and over again. It’s not fun all the time, but that is art, business and life.
So there you go. My first blog article. I know this first article took on a more general response to the topic of art and business and perhaps leaves many questions bubbling to the surface. I’m sure, if I’m asked to write again, there will be plenty of opportunity to go into great detail on a variety of artistic/business topics in more detail. Feel free to email [email protected] with questions, ideas, etc. for future discussion.
Producer Series: David Elliot We asked a series of questions to all of the producers currently at Gorilla Tango. David Elliot, producer of the current GTT show, Faith Off, was the first to answer :). Enjoy!
1. Why do you feel like you are the person to produce this show?
Because if I didn't produce shows I wouldn't A) be able to write for them and B) be able to do the things I want to do.
2. What have you learned so far from your Gorilla Tango experience?
You can't really rely on anything going according to plan, pretty much. People will drop out, you may have to fire people, tech people want more money than the cast, it rains so hard that nobody shows up for opening night, you break your hand in a violent scene, the laptop you brought doesn't want to work well with the sound system so the audience and cast can't hear cues, that kind of thing.
3. If you had to give some superlatives (best dressed, most likely to be in a hair band, etc.) to your cast and crew who would receive what?
Kera Evans - Most likely to be given a good job as a dancer for a big hockey team and have to drop out of the show.
Jon Pawlowski - Most likely to accept beer in exchange for lights and sound.
Alison Farajpahani - Smallest face.
Brian Zeman - Most likely to get cigarette-related illnesses.
Gil Lopez - Most likely to be mistaken for a foreigner.
Jessica Landis - Most likely to be asked "Are you any relation to John Landis?"
Tyler Paterson - Performingest.
Elford Alley - Least likely to see the show on account of living in Texas.
Iulia Ionescu - Foreignest.
Joy Guerrieri - Loudest laugh.
David Elliott - Meiest.
4. Why should people come out to see your show?
Because it's funny and we put a lot of work into it. Also it's blasphemous, which is en vogue. Also Stone Cold Steve Austin's music will be used.
5. Why is your show important?
It's not, honestly. It's just a sketch show. The fact that all ticket sales will go toward saving drowning orphans, however, is quite important.
6. Do you have any tips to give to other Gorilla Tango (and elsewhere) producers?
Stop taking yourself so seriously. What we do might be important to us, but that doesn't mean that you're allowed to act like a baby when someone disagrees. Also "Stop talking about doing it and do it."
7. Will we see a sequel or an extension of your show?
I'd really like to develop God's scenes into a two man show at some point. We'll also extend the show if we make some money.
8. Who is your producing/directing/writing idol and why?
Producing idol? Like I said, I have to produce things because otherwise I'd be home every night doing nothing. Directing? Hitchcock, maybe. A lot of the Second City directors know their shit, and it's amazing how the can do what they do. Writing? Peter Cook? I'll get back to you.
9. What other shows at Gorilla Tango look like they deserve a look see?
To be completely honest with you, I've been so wrapped up in my own show that I haven't looked at other shows recently. Granted, I live in Milwaukee, so a two hour drive each way for a one hour show does seem excessive, but I still feel bad. See all the other shows, and then tell everyone at those shows to come see my show.
10. What do you think people will take away from your show?
It's a blasphemous sketch show. I'll be happy if they leave the show with a smile on their face. Realistically, I'm not going to be converting many Christians here.
11. Hey, David, I am a writer or an agent or a successful director (I forget, because I'm stoned), can I give you a paid position to do some comedy stuff?
Welcome!Welcome to the Gorilla Tango Theatre Blog
Hey there! If you are reading this then you are on step one towards producing theatre that is financially sustainable. Yay!
One of the reasons that we created Gorilla Tango Theatre is to demystify producing and make it affordable for everyone. We aim to provide resources to the producers to help them towards their goals. With online ticketing, box office management, and free rehearsal space (scheduled via our online producer portal), we may be the best deal in town for producers and theatre companies looking to produce. Gorilla Tango gives you the opportunity to produce the show you want, when you want, with all the support infrastructure you need to take it from concept to closing. More than 80% of the producers who produce here are profitable! That is why we refer to ourselves as "The Producers' Theatre" and why we pride ourselves on giving producers the best chance to be artistically and financially successful in every show they create!
Stay tuned for more posts from Gorilla Tango staff and guests throughout the year. Thanks for reading!