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Chasing the Money

Funny story about $250,000

Dollar-bills-pile

Many years ago, back in New York City, my comic play I’m in Love with Your Wife premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. It was a fast-paced, 80 minute modern sex farce and was a hit at the festival, in part aided by the casting of a very popular 1970s sitcom star.

The very affable and big soul Ron Palillo (R.I.P.)

R.I.P. Ron Palillo, a generous man with a huge heart.

We sold out every performance (which sounds more impressive if I don’t mention it was a 44-seat house) and then sold out the additional shows added. When the festival closed, we were nominated for six best of the fest awards, winning Best Supporting Actress and Outstanding Playwriting of a New Play. The good buzz and great reviews led to meetings with a few off-Broadway producers, who felt that this play could be a hit off Broadway.

One producer went further. He had his own 165-seat theater space, which more than qualifies it for off-Broadway, and agreed to budget the play. One afternoon we sat down and figured out what it would take to make it happen. After figuring in actors salaries (on the bare minimum union scale), salaries and fees for director and designers, plus set contraction, insurance, and a healthy chunk for marketing, he had a number that would keep the show open for two months. Presumably, good press, word of mouth and a 70% attendance rate would keep the show running indefinitely. And this producer told me that number: $250,000.

I was shocked. The budget to do the show off-off-Broadway, in the festival, was just under $10,000. And we hustled to get that money, holding a live fundraiser (this was before online crowdsourcing existed) and we cut corners where we could. Even after all that, a little money came out of my pocket, not counting the hundreds of hours I worked for free.

As we looked through the quarter mil budget, that number made sense and was clearly not arbitrary. But that’s a lot of money to raise for something not permanent. One of the joys of the art of theater is that it exists only in that moment in time that you witness it. Once the line is spoken, once the lights go down, the moment is over forever… until the next night. But eventually, the show will close. This becomes daunting when I realized I needed to spearhead a campaign to raise a quarter of a million dollars for something that might be all gone in a few months.

And as I walked out of that meeting, I had a thought:

“For $250,000, I should make a movie.”

This story does not go down the road of me abandoning theater to pursue film and TV. Hardly. I will always love theater. Since that experience I have had three more plays fully produced, a few more written, and numerous productions of full length and short plays across the country. But never for a budget remotely close to $250,000. And this thought always stayed in the back of my mind: should I spend a lot of time hustling and fundraising for something that could conceivably be gone in four months? Or should I put that energy towards something more permanent?

So imagine my surprise when the same number was not-so-casually presented as a budget for Closure. My ten-year younger self would be smiling at me (and possibly wondering what happened to my hair). It seems appropriate that the same number estimated to launch my off-Broadway career be the same to launch my first feature film endeavor as both writer and director. Makes me want to play the lottery.

That’s it! I’m going to take my savings and buy lottery tickets, and use the winnings to fund this movie.

Or maybe I’ll listen to what the producer suggests first. One step at a time.

COMING UP NEXT: Hearing the script again… but this time, in front of an audience.

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