Commentary: Why originality is overrated

Howard A. Tullman, Inc. magazine, 4/23/13

If you're in sales, you probably know this: Selling something new and different is a lot harder than selling something that's familiar or something that's just a little bit different and hopefully better. Most people are reluctant to try new things.  You just need to remember five basic propositions:

  1. Originality is overrated. Pioneers end up with arrows in their back, and not a whole lot more. Don't invent. Innovate.
  2. Novelty is a nuisance. It means expensive training, a new learning curve, and lots of mistakes. Tried and true trumps all.
  3. No one likes to cross the chasm -- especially when they are first. Short, sure steps forward, and a lot more of the same, really sell.
  4. Don't tell me how different your product or service is. Tell me how easy and familiar and fail-safe it will be.
  5. Analogies are better than apple pie. Show me anything I'm doing now and then tell me not how different things will be, but how much the same they will remain. 

In the movie business, they call this process "high concept." You give me a snapshot that tells me all I need to know. Like using the latest slick and suave incarnation of Justin Timberlake to play the Frank Sinatra role in remakes of any classic Sinatra films. Says it all. I don't have to love the idea to understand exactly what you're telling me. Or having Tom Hanks play the Jimmy Stewart roles in anything except It's a Wonderful Life.  You get the picture.


Commentary: Hollywood doesn't need originality, now that it has data analysis

Brooks Barnes, The New York Times, 5/5/13

Forget zombies. The data crunchers are invading Hollywood. The same kind of numbers analysis that has reshaped areas like politics is increasingly being used by the entertainment industry. Netflix tells customers what to rent based on algorithms that analyze previous selections, Pandora does the same with music, and studios have started using Facebook "likes" and online trailer views to mold advertising and even films. Now, the slicing and dicing is seeping into one of the last corners of Hollywood where creativity and old-fashioned instinct still hold sway: the screenplay. A former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese -- "the reigning mad scientist of Hollywood," in the words of one studio customer - [offers] script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers. "This is my worst nightmare" said Ol Parker, a writer whose film credits include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. "It's the enemy of creativity, nothing more than an attempt to mimic that which has worked before. It can only result in an increasingly bland homogenization, a pell-mell rush for the middle of the road." Mr. Parker drew a breath. "Look, I'd take a suggestion from my grandmother if I thought it would improve a film I was writing," he said. "But this feels like the studio would listen to my grandmother before me, and that is terrifying." But a lot of producers, studio executives and major film financiers disagree. Already they have quietly hired Mr. Bruzzese's company to analyze about 100 scripts, including an early treatment for Oz the Great and Powerful, which has taken in $484.8 million worldwide. Mr. Bruzzese, who is one of a very few if not the only entrepreneur to use this form of script analysis, is plotting to take it to Broadway and television now that he has traction in movies.


Commentary: Does Broadway care about originality?

Sarah Begley, Newsweek magazine, 5/6/13

Even if you haven't made it to Broadway lately, you'll likely recognize the names of this year's Tony nominees for best musical: Bring It On, A Christmas Story, Kinky Boots, and Matilda. For the first time, each of the nominees is based on a movie or a text with an already famous film adaptation. Regurgitating blockbuster material has become standard for Broadway -- and it seems to pay off. In 2010, for instance, all the nominees for best musical were of the "jukebox" variety -- squeezing one artist or era's hits into a plot. [But] when original works win, they get legs. They get extended lives on Broadway, and they become the shows that regional theaters and high schools revive. They enter the American canon. To be fair to the [Tony] nominating committee, there weren't many essentially original musicals to choose from this year. But adaptation is in Broadway's blood. The first 10 musicals to win Tonys were all based on source material, be it a play, a book, or a short story. The difference between then and now is that most of those shows grew to surpass their sources -- just think of The Music Man. Although Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark may never become [a] pop-cultural touchstone, slapping a blockbuster title on a marquee lures in certain audience members that original works don't; it's these visitors to New York, not the seasoned theatergoers, who keep the box offices open. And that's just fine, according to actors like Jeanne Lehman, a Tony voter who had a long run as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. "Personally, I don't have a problem with movies turned musicals," she says. "Whatever is keeping theater alive, that is what we need."


NY Times critics weigh in on Broadway's "culture of recycling"

Last week, Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood, theater critics for The New York Times, took readers' questions about the Broadway season and this week's announcement of the Tony Award nominations -- including this one: "Do you have any comments on why all nominated new musicals are adaptations?"

Brantley: I could do a riff on the culture of recycling here. But for many years, many classic book musicals have been adaptations. The Book of Mormon is a most obvious recent exception. But think of the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon: Oklahoma! and Carousel are adapted from plays, and South Pacific from a novel. More recently, musicals are more likely to look to movies for inspiration. Even Stephen Sondheim, whom one thinks of as conceiving shows out of air with his collaborators, has looked to the movies for his Passion and A Little Night Music.

Isherwood: Throughout their history Broadway musicals have been drawing on other sources for inspiration. Many of the classics have found their origins in other mediums, so in a sense it's nothing new. What is new is the tendency these days to simply musicalize movies, a sign I suppose of film's dominance in our culture (and our decreasing literacy, perhaps). There's no inherent reason why films shouldn't make for fine musicals -- I quite liked Hairspray -- but the track record of the last decade or so is not inspiring.  


FROM TC: For another point of view, watch this 9-minute video of Jujamcyn Theatres president Jordan Roth talking about "The Originality of Show Content" at the 2012 TEDxBroadway conference. 

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