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Meet Entertainment Lawyer, Broadway Producer, and Author of I Wanna Be a Producer How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed, John Breglio
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Norm Goldman


Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.

To read more about Norm Follow Here






 
By Norm Goldman
Published on April 21, 2016
 


Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest entertainment lawyer, Broadway producer, and now author of I Wanna Be a Producer How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed, John Breglio.

John has represented or been involved in the production of hundreds of plays and musicals, including A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Fences, Proof, Doubt, La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park With George. His clients have included some of the most famous names on the New York stage, among them , Andrew Lloyd Webber, August Wilson, Marvin Hamlisch, Bernadette Peters — and Michael Bennett, who was also Breglio's good friend, and Stephen Sondheim.

Recently, he has become a Broadway producer of the revival A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls.


                           


Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest entertainment lawyer, Broadway producer, and now author of I Wanna Be a Producer How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed, John Breglio.

John has represented or been involved in the production of hundreds of plays and musicals, including A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls, Fences, Proof, Doubt, La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park With George. His clients have included some of the most famous names on the New York stage, among them , Andrew Lloyd Webber, August Wilson, Marvin Hamlisch, Bernadette Peters — and Michael Bennett, who was also Breglio's good friend, and Stephen Sondheim.

Recently, he has become a Broadway producer of the revival A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls.

Norm: Good day John and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you become interested in entertainment law and what was your training as an entertainment lawyer? As a follow up, how easy or difficult was it to enter the field of entertainment law?

John: As a young man, I studied piano for several years and actively pursued a career in the arts as a musician and at Yale as an actor and director.  For several reasons, I never pursued a career performing in the arts after college.  To my surprise I wasn't drafted into the army even though it was during the height of the Vietnam war.  Not being certain what I would do ultimately, I applied to and attended Harvard Law School.

While at Harvard, I read in the New York Times about entertainment lawyers in New York City. 

The preeminent law firm mentioned was Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and one of the senior partners, John Wharton, was mentioned as the dean of entertainment lawyers.  This seemed a natural fit for me.  So I interned at the firm for a summer and then  joined them as a permanent associate in the fall of 1971. 

I remained at the firm for the next 36 years until I started independently producing on my own. 

John Wharton trained me in theatre law, while two other partners, Robert Montgomery and Bud Taylor, showed me the ropes in the film business and the publishing businesses, respectively.

Norm: If I were just starting law school, and I want to break into entertainment law, what would be the most important things for me to focus on as I move through law school to make this happen?

John: The entertainment law bar is quite small and selective. Law schools seldom include in the curricula practical courses but they do of course have intellectual property courses in copyright, unfair competition and patents.

If you're interested in pursuing entertainment law after graduation, my recommendation is to go to the best law school for which you qualify and get the best basic training all around as a lawyer.  I would concentrate on related intellectual property courses, and, in addition to the required course on contracts, hone your writing and negotiating skills.

Ultimately, you will need to start representing clients in the entertainment fields, hopefully under the tutelage of an experienced mentor, in order to develop the necessary experience and skills.

Norm: What was it like meeting your first client? Were you nervous?

John: My first client was the Estate of Margaret Mitchell.  Mitchell was, of course, the author of the novel, GONE WITH THE WIND .

Her heir, Stephens Mitchell, was her brother and controlled all the rights in the novel. When I started at Paul Weiss, Stephens had been approached by a Broadway producer who wanted to adapt the famous novel into a Broadway musical.  Along with the partner in charge, Bud Taylor, we traveled down to Atlanta to meet with Stephens to discuss the proposal.

I was not only nervous but somewhat intimidated as we waited for him to arrive at a white columned country club mansion which could have been the backdrop for a scene from the movie.  He finally arrived, white suit and all.  Stephens was a wonderfully polite and gregarious gentleman who made us feel at home as we sipped mint juleps and discussed the musical.

Norm: Can you tell us any interesting stories about your work as an entertainment lawyer leaving out names or identifying details, of course!

John: I have been very fortunate to have helped hundreds of artists and companies involved in the entertainment business. It's difficult to say which were the most challenging or interesting.  However, I believe my association with Michael Bennett, the genius behind the musical A CHORUS LINE and other shows, was the most enduring and satisfying.

I met Michael early in my career in the early 1970s.  He was already considered a director/choreographer wunderkind of the highest order on Broadway.  But he was yet to have hit the jackpot with any of his shows. Soon after we met, Michael directed, produced, co-wrote and co-produced with Joe Papp of the Public Theater A CHORUS LINE.

It was an overnight sensation.  It one every award possible including the Pulitzer and Tony Award and became the longest running show in Broadway history in 1984. 

In 1978, we formed a production company called, Quadrille Productions which would serve as the production company for all of Michael's future projects. Sadly, that company only lasted a year's time during which I left Paul Weiss to be Michael's producing partner.  I go into the details of that company and its ultimate demise quite a bit in my book.  Suffice it to say here, it was a noble attempt to create something quite unique in the theatre community but it was an idea whose time had not come.

I eventually returned to Paul Weiss and my practice where I remained Michael's  lawyer and agent for many years thereafter until his untimely death of AIDS in 1987.

Norm: What are the skills you most admire in people involved in the stage?

John: The skills I most admire are persistence, artistic integrity and loyalty.

There are few professions that require a tougher skin and pure stamina to withstand the unending pressure, negativity and pure bad luck that every artist and producer confronts on a daily basis. 

Actors are required almost daily to audition for a few roles that become available only to be rejected over and over again, not because they are untalented but because they don't fit the bill in every respect: talent, experience, age, sex, height, hair or the color of their shoes!  Keep in mind the decision is made by a handful of people who exercise their subjective judgments after watching and hearing an actor for perhaps 4 minutes. 

And playwrights often work the fields of their profession for decades before their work is recognized. It takes great fortitude and faith in one's own abilities and talents to keep going year after year until your work is recognized and awarded.

I also mentioned artistic integrity.  As opposed to the film business, the theatre protects the copyright and ownership of the playwright's work and the directors' and designers' works.  No one, including the producer, can alter or change in any way these artists' works without their express permission.  This is as compared to the film business where, by and large, the film studios own the artists' works and have complete freedom to do whatever they choose to do  with the material.

Finally, loyalty.  Collaboration is the hallmark of great plays and musicals.  Particularly with musicals, the cornerstone  of success lies in close work among the bookwriter, composer, lyricist, director, choreographer, and designers. It also requires a producer who can strike the proper balance between guiding the joint work along the developmental phase and not interfering too much in order to allow the artists to find their own way with the material. 

As an artist develops his or her career, being loyal to those who have helped pave the way for you as an agent or lawyer and your artistic collaborators is in my view terribly important.  Of course not every relationship can withstand some outside pressures or the test of time. But staying loyal to those around you who believe in you and have supported your efforts for many years is quality I greatly admire.

Norm: What led you to become the producer of the revival of A Chorus Line and how did you go about casting for the production?

John: I decided to produce the revival of A CHORUS LINE in 2004 while I was still at Paul Weiss.  At the time, there were a number of independent producers who asked me about a revival.  I controlled the rights to the show along with the other representatives of the authors of the musical. 

As I thought about a revival, I remembered a line from the show that Cassie, the lead character, says to Zach, the director: "I don't want to keep teaching others what I should be doing myself."

That line of dialogue spoke to me personally.  Having spent so many years helping and guiding other producers how to produce their shows, I thought I now should produce for myself especially since Bennett had left me to be the custodian of his best work.  With the support of the others of the show, I plunged into the deep end.

I also relied on Bennett's professional partner, Bob Avian, and Baayok Lee, who had directed dozens of productions around the world after Michael's death.

In terms of casting, there's no better way of seeing the process first hand by viewing my documentary film, EVERY LITTLE STEP.  In that film, we follow the entire process of casting the show over a period of 18 months from the earliest auditions to opening night.  I produced that film for the purpose of demonstrating both the heartache and the thrill of either being rejected or accepted to play a role in a major musical.

Norm: How do you go about financing Broadway productions?

John: Financing a show can be as simple as writing your own check - almost never the case - or soliciting funds from a handful or investors or scores more.  For a Broadway play you need to raise 3-4 million dollars and for a musical it can be anywhere  from 10-20 million dollars.

On occasion, a play seems so attractive because of the subject  matter or the star cast to play the lead role, that it is a relatively easy matter to raise the money.  In many cases, however, it is not so clear that the project is a sure winner and the producer will find it necessary to have readings, perhaps workshops or labs and even developmental productions in regional theatres to show investors the quality and merits of the work.

If you plan to raise money from the public, your lawyer, who must be versed in raising money for the theatre, will guide you so that you are aware of the federal and state laws and regulations that govern the syndication of funds for the theatre.

Norm: What motivated you to write I Wanna Be a Producer How to Make a Killing on Broadway...or Get Killed?

John: I wrote my book for several reasons; I didn't think there was any printed material available widely to the public that sets out with specificity the journey from having an idea for a show to opening night - including the creative, artistic, business and, to some extent, the legal issues relevant to the whole process; and, I wanted to write a book that was accessible to a broad audience. and not just seasoned professionals. 

So it includes a number of backstage stories involving many shows which illustrate the instructional material.  I also include some very personal stories of my own journey as a besotted your man who loved the theatre, to becoming an entertainment lawyer and ultimately a producer.

More important, I wanted to give back and impart whatever experiences I had and those things I observed and learned while working in this business, so that it might encourage others to become involved in the theatre.

Norm: What purpose do you believe your book serves and what matters to you about the book?

John: What matters most to me about the book is to give the reader a true appreciation for what a good producer actually does and what skills he or she may need to succeed.  I'm often asked. "What does a producer do?"  And so often the misconception is that of someone who simply raises money or has a casting couch.   A good producer is commander of the ship, every watchful of keeping the ship afloat.  He or she not only needs to help and support the artists to achieve their goal of a great success, but, after the opening, the producer must be alert on a daily basis to the strengths and weaknesses of the show and be careful to modify the advertising and marketing objectives as the show ages and competes with newer shows each year.

Norm: Can you share a little of the book with us?

John: (Excerpt Taken from Amazon.com): What does a "producer" actually do? How does one travel from that great idea for a show to a smash hit opening night on Broadway? John Breglio cannot guarantee you a hit, but he does take the reader on a fascinating journey "behind the curtains" where he himself once stood as a child, dreaming about the theatre. Part memoir, part handbook, Behind the Curtains is a road map to the hows and wherefores, the dos and don'ts of producing a Broadway play, written by a Broadway veteran with more than 40 years of experience.

This comprehensive and highly informative book features practical analysis and concepts for the producer and is filled with entertaining anecdotes from Breglio's illustrious career as a leading theatrical lawyer and producer.

Breglio recounts not only his first-hand knowledge of the crucial legal and business issues faced by a producer, but also his experiences behind the scenes with literally hundreds of producers, playwrights, composers, and directors, including such theatre luminaries as Michael Bennett, Joe Papp, Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Patti Lupone, August Wilson, and Mel Brooks.

Whether you are a working or aspiring producer, an investor, or are just curious about the backstage reality of the theater, Breglio shares his knowledge and experience of the industry, conveying practical information set against the real-life stories of those who have devoted their lives to the craft.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

John: There is a lot of biographical information about me on the Internet.  Also, MY SITE will tell you a lot.  I'm also on FACEBOOK and   TWITTER

Norm: What is next for John Breglio?

John: As for the future, I'm looking at a couple of plays for next season and developing several new musicals.  As a sideline, I've also just finished restoring a wonderful 18th Century house on Nantucket which I plan to sell this spring

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

John: Well, I've just begun my interviews so I haven't been asked too many questions yet. I do wish however, that I will have the chance to talk about the business of producing in a way that hasn't been discussed before.  And I also hope that I can give the public a better appreciation of the trials and tribulations artists of every stripe must endure in order to succeed.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.