"Producer's Corner" by Bruce Lazarus The Producer-Agent Relationship
Every Tuesday night I host a free TeleCourse in which I invite a different theatre-industry professional to discuss an aspect of the theatrical production process with both experienced and novice producers.
On February 10th, our guest was Patrick Herold of the Helen Merill Agency, which represents writers, directors, stage designers and choreographers. As Patrick discussed his role in the life of a play, it became clear that the relationship between the producer of a play and the agent of that play's author is a complex one. Of utmost importance to both is the success of the play, but how that success comes about, and who partakes of the fruits of that success, are issues that can sometimes find the producer and the agent on opposite sides of the proverbial fence.
Patrick explained to the TeleCourse that when an agent negotiates a production agreement between the playwright and the producer, both the playwright and producer sign an "agency clause" in their agreement. The agency clause confirms that even if the playwright ends his relationship with the agency, the agency will still represent the play. Thanks to the agency clause, the agency may, if it chooses, license the performing rights to a play itself for as long as it chooses, rather than entering into an agreement with a licensing house such as Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service or Music Theatre International.
I brought up the fact that a theatrical producer who may earn up to a 40% stake in the play (through subsidiary rights) has a vested interest in how the play is licensed once the producer's production closes, and to whom. As a producer, I may want Samuel French or Dramatists to start licensing the play as soon as possible, so that there are more productions out there and more revenue coming in from the play. I may not be confident that the agent, who is getting his 10% of the play's revenue "off the top" before I get my 40%, will license the play effectively. Therefore, I asked, what if a producer, with enough clout, agreed only to allow the agent to license the play if the agent agreed to enter an agreement with a licensing house within a year of the closing of the original production?
Patrick was adamant that he would not accept such a contingency for one of his clients, but acknowledged the balance of power should that producer be a certain Canadian or have a cute rodent as a mascot. Yes, Patrick agreed, one reason agents do like to license a play themselves is that they do not have to split their commission with a licensing house. However, not all the reasons are self serving, and the decision whether or not to work with a licensing house should be strictly between the playwright and the agent. "The writer's interest is paramount to the agent because I am an advocate for the playwright," Patrick explained. He sees us as having the same ultimate goal, but at the same time concedes that "what's good for agent or playwright may not be in producer's best interest - it's a question of who should control terms of the game." As a producer who has put my money on that game, I want to control the terms, whenever possible. That's Show Biz.
To participate in the free Tuesday TeleCourse or just listen in, all you need is a telephone, however you must register by calling (212) 769-3282.
Bruce Lazarus the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway show Shakespeare's "R&J."
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