Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A look back at 2019

I don't know about you, but we're staying home tonight.

It's not that we don't ever go out on New Year's Eve. Once every three or four years, we head out to a nice seafood restaurant for lobster or scallops. But we usually end up regretting it. The restaurants are packed, the servers are rushed, and the bill, when you finally do get it, is usually stratospheric.

So we're going to stay home and cook lobsters on the grill. And eat snacks. And drink Prosecco. And play lots and lots of games. Our favorites? Apples to Apples, Cranium Whoonu and Logo Party (my wife and daughter always cream me in that last one).

That's one nice thing about having an adult daughter live with you. You always have a third player for those fast-moving three-player games.

But before we get into that, there's one little piece of business I need to take care of. Reviewing my goals for this year.

Or should I say goal? Avid followers of this blog know that last New Year's Day, I flushed my usual practice of making a list of five or six or seven writing-related items. Instead I set for myself one overriding goal:

1) Sell The Enchanted Bookshop as a TV series

Well, it didn't happen. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

As described here previously, I acquired a Hollywood manager back in May 2018. I worked with him closely for the first couple months of 2019, polishing the pilot script and getting it ready for pitching. I even put together a pitch bible giving the background of each of the characters and offering short synopses of eight additional episodes.

The script went out in February. My manager had some impressive contacts (he said), including development executives at a couple of the big streamers (you can probably guess the name of one of them).

Every couple weeks I'd call my manager for an update. And every couple of weeks he'd give me the same answer. No word yet.

After a while, he stopped picking up the phone when I called, but at least he'd return it a day or two later. And then he stopped returning my calls altogether. And responding to my emails.

I sent him the script for another episode, which tells the origin story of the Lits and features a special appearance by Don Quixote himself. He never responded.

I don't know what happened. But I'm guessing that he heard enough no's that he decided I wasn't worth his time anymore.

Which is fine. A lot of screenwriters go through several managers before they find one who works (oops, I meant "that works").

Anyway, I kept busy writing all through the spring and summer. I started--and abandoned--a feature script version of The Enchanted Bookshop. I started--and abandoned--a Christmas play set in The Enchanted Bookshop universe (yeah, you heard right, universe). I started--and abandoned--a children's TV series based on another one of my plays, Wicked Is As Wicked Does.

And I did one other thing. I started pitching to animation studios. As it turns out, you don't actually need a manager to approach a lot of the animation houses. I ended up emailing 97 of them. Seven requested the script. Four of them rejected it.

So things are looking up. My 18-month contract with my manager ended in November. That frees me up to approach new managers. Seven minus four means three animation houses are still considering my pilot. And I'm almost done with a new project I started late last year, one which may provide an alternate path to getting a TV series.

I may not have achieved the one goal I set for myself this year. But the dream isn't dead either. I've got a new plan, a new energy, and a new year in which to get there.

But more on that next year...

Saturday, December 21, 2019

How I met your "Mumie"

Yesterday, I received something in the mail from my publisher. It was in a 4 X 5 envelope, nothing special, and I tried to guess what it was.

Sometimes Pioneer send me copies of my scripts, but those always come in a big Priority Mail envelope. And besides, I'd already received the ten free scripts of my latest play, The Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras, so I knew it couldn't be that.

Sometimes they send me catalogs or a T-shirt with the logo of one of my plays, but those also come in bigger envelopes.

Sometimes they sent me contracts to sign, or copies of contracts that I've already signed, but I didn't have anything in the pipeline so I knew it couldn't be that either.

I was stumped.

So I tore it open. It turned out to be the first foreign language translation of one of my plays. A publisher in Switzerland, Theaterverlag Kaliolabusto, had negotiated the exclusive right to license How I Met Your Mummy in Switzerland and translated the script into German so that they could market it there.

The situation is a win-win-win. Kaliolabusto gets a play with a proven track record, Pioneer gets the play into a country they normally wouldn't have access to, and I get my usual royalty for any performances they license.

In fact, Kaliolabusto has already licensed a performance in that country, although when it first popped up on the Pioneer website over a year ago, I didn't realize that it had been in German. The group that had put on that performance was Sofa-Theater in the historic village of Hindelbank.

I don't expect a lot of productions from Kaliolabusto. Switzerland is a small country, of course, and even their most popular plays don't get more than 7 or 8 productions a year. But it makes me smile to know that one of my works is now being done in another tongue.

Wie wundervoll!

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Enchanted Bookshop Musical comes to life

Let me tell you, publishing a musical has been quite the educational experience. And one of the things I've learned is this: It takes a whole lot longer to rehearse and mount a musical than a play (well, duh).

My play The Enchanted Bookshop was first published in July 2017 and premiered on September 21. Think about that. A script wasn't even available until July 31, so the group that first produced it--The Orange County Players of Paoli, IN--had to do all of the following in just seven weeks:
  • Order a perusal script
  • Read the script
  • Decide to perform it,
  • Pay the licensing fee
  • Order performance scripts for the entire cast
  • Hold auditions
  • Cast the play
  • Build the sets and costumes
  • Run a full set of rehearsals from first read-through to final dress 
That's pretty impressive.

Musicals, however, need a lot more time. The Enchanted Bookshop Musical came out in July of this year, and it's just now getting its first productions.

And that's okay. Learning the lyrics probably takes a month of rehearsal time. Add choreography, and you've just extended it another month.

Now that the show has had its premiere, other theaters are jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, the musical currently has 27 productions booked for the current school year.

That's a very healthy start. It's not as many productions as the original play got in its first few months of publication, but it's a whole lot more than any of my other plays. So it looks like the musical is going to be a hit as well.

So who gave The Enchanted Bookshop Musical its world premiere? Well, it turned out to be the Arbor Court Anderson Valley Entertainment Center of Lancaster, CA. They haven't posted any photos from their production, however, so I was excited this week when I saw that the second group to perform the musical--Haystack Productions of Beausejour, Manitoba--posted some of theirs.

Of course, the photos don't look any different than the photos from the play (other than the open mouths during the musical numbers!). And that's because the play and the musical have the exact same characters, the same costumes, the same sets.

In fact, all of the dialogue and stage directions from the original script were used as is in the musical. The only change were the eleven songs that were added.

Looking at the photos now, the one thing that really strikes me is the distinctiveness of the costumes. 

When I was first choosing the literary characters that would appear in The Enchanted Bookshop, one of my criteria was to only include characters that are instantly recognizable from their costumes. I didn't want the audience getting distracted trying to figure out who was who. That's why there's no Anne of Green Gables or Caddie Woodlawn in the play (though I really, really wanted to include a Canadian character).

Anyway, as the photo at the top of this post shows, I think I was successful--at least with the guys. The girls, on the other hand, pose a bigger challenge.

We all recognize Dorothy Gale's blue-checked gingham dress, of course (Fun fact: While the ruby slippers were invented for the 1939 MGM film, her iconic clothing came right out of L. Frank Baum's book). But the other two characters are a little harder to place. Need help? That's Pollyanna in the middle and Heidi on the right.

I think the problem is that our image of the six main characters is shaped not by the original books they appeared in but by the movie adaptations of those books, and there hasn't been a movie version of Pollyanna or Heidi in decades. Besides, even when those characters did appear on screen, there wasn't one definitive outfit they were identified with.

Let's face it, male movie heroes don't change their clothes as often as female movie heroes.

Anyway, I love the costumes here. They're very colorful and true to character, so once you're introduced to the characters wearing them, you shouldn't have any trouble keeping them straight. And that's really what's most important here.

So a great big kudos to the costumer designer, the skilled seamstresses and seamsters (?) who made the costumes, and everyone else involved in the production.

You can be proud. Very, very proud.