Hollywood has cast as talent scouts two leading theaters on the London fringe and one Off Broadway company.
Over the past few months, Vanguard Films, a West Coast indie, has quietly brokered deals with both the Bush and Hampstead Theaters in London, in which the playhouses receive annual payments of $10,000 each for three years in return for information about scripts and writers of note. The writers can be anywhere in the U.K. and need not be attached, formally or otherwise, to either venue.
In New York, Vanguard has reached a similar arrangement with Off Broadway’s Circle Repertory Theater. The deals bear a passing resemblance to one just formalized between Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons (see story below).
If Vanguard develops a script found in this way, the theater receives a portion of the development fee amounting to a further $8,000. Should the script get made, that theater reaps an additional 25% of Vanguard’s producer fee – some $75,000 or so if it is a major film channeled through Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, with whom Vanguard has a first-look arrangement.
“The idea is that the theaters are other eyes for us,” said Wesley Moore by phone from San Francisco. Moore, 37, a former story editor for Vanguard and himself a playwright (his “Swim Visit” had a monthlong run at the Donmar Warehouse in 1986), is partnered on the deal by Vanguard founder John Williams, based in Los Angeles. Co-producers of films “The Thin Blue Line” and “Sarafina!,” Vanguard remains perhaps best known for such American Playhouse adaptations as “True West” and “Rocket to the Moon,” both with John Malkovich.
“Of course we know it’s pocket money for a film company,” said Hampstead artistic director Jenny Topper. “But it is the first time a film company has demonstrated respect for the expertise and wealth of material current and past in theater; usually, Hollywood just feeds off the top.”
The current deal, Moore said, comes as Vanguard is shifting its emphasis to features: “Hollywood inevitably looks to British talent because there are so many good writers over there. This is a way for us to get early access to them. We’re probably going to see all the major new writing out of London.”
Why these two theaters? “The Hampstead has close relationships with established writers,” explained Moore, “while the Bush focuses on those who are up and coming.”
Both have an impact far beyond their 279 seats combined. The Hampstead has transferred 10 productions in the last 5 1/2 years, including Frank McGuinness’ “Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me,” to Broadway, and made £ 40,000 ($65,000) last year alone off the successful West End transfer of Terry Johnson’s “Dead Funny.”
While transferring plays of its own, the Bush has also seen seven recent plays head into pre-production: “Beautiful Thing” starts filming in August, having been picked up by David Aukin at Channel Four. Further off are films of “The Cut,” “The Clearing,” and “The Present,” three Bush plays that won acclaim without West End transfers. Two other Bush shows, “Trainspotting” and “Killer Joe,” both of which originated elsewhere, are headed for the screen. Director Danny Boyle (“Shallow Grave”) has begun shooting the former. Also screen-bound is Irish writer Declan Hughes’ “Digging for Fire,” which would mark the feature film debut of rising Irish director Lynne Parker (“The Silver Tassie”).
Amid all this activity, why bother entering into a deal? “The Bush over history has seen a lot of things go to TV and film and hasn’t got diddlysquat back; it’s been a travesty,” said Bush artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, 31. “The attractive thing about this is there is no ownership involved.”
“They’re paying for the sort of research and development we do anyway,” Dromgoole added.
Nick Marston, a London agent at A.P. Watt whose client list includes Bush writers Mike Cullen (“The Cut”) and Declan Hughes, was impressed by Vanguard’s approach: “Too often, Hollywood tends to wait for something to have actually happened, or to have struck gold, and you wouldn’t necessarily regard the fringe as gold.”