Make That Thirteen Angry Men: The End of an Error

A year and a half ago, I was invited to lunch by a gentleman who had acquired the rights to Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men and wished to turn it into a musical. A compelling idea, and certainly not a connect-the-dots kind of project, so it instantly appealed to me. So did his insistence that Hurricane was one of the strongest scores he’d ever heard, and that I was his first choice in all the world for the job.

Red Flag #1: At some point in our very pleasant conversation, he let it slip that another composer he’d approached earlier had turned him down. But he bought my hamburger, and these are desperate times. I was in.

Some months later, he contacted me to ask for a CD sampler of some of my work, as he was having trouble landing a bookwriter. A little surprised he hadn’t requested this earlier, I obliged, and shortly thereafter a lunch was set up for the two potential collaborators to meet. The primary candidate (also the only one, but why quibble) was one David Simpatico – whose work I actually knew and liked. I also liked David right off: he’s witty and perpetually exasperated, we can (and do) finish each other’s sentences, and he eats his lunch like he’s mad at it – all things I enjoy very much.

Red Flag #2: A previously unannounced “advisor” was there with our producer, someone I’d had dealings with in the past. While I knew these two had an existing business relationship, I hadn’t known he would be involved with this particular venture. To this day, I do not know the specifics of said involvement, but I did learn rather quickly that Mr. Producer will not make a move without him. I found this a little daunting, as this same individual had been a formidable obstacle to the progress of another endeavor of mine years earlier, though he now gladly takes the credit for its success. (He also has a… shall we say unsavory reputation about town. And begins many of his sentences with, “Well, the thing you have to remember about musical theatre….” You get the idea.) But Mr. Producer bought my weird little Cobb salad, so it was all systems go!

During that Fateful Luncheon, our fearless leader had blurted out that he only held the rights through June of 2012, an extension of which would depend upon his having a FIRST DRAFT to present by then. So when the contracts came back all wrong (and, naturally, late), I didn’t worry too much. I knew that time was of the essence, and all would be duly and promptly rectified.

Red Flag #3: One morning, some weeks later, he called me.

“Listen, Michael,” he said, “you have to talk to your agent.”

“No, you have to talk to my agent; that’s why I have an agent.”

“But he’s asking for too much money!” came the panicked reply.

“Actually,” I sighed, “he’s asking well under the standard industry minimum.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not a real producer; I’m just a regular guy, trying to do something here. I don’t wanna have to take out a second mortgage on my house to make this happen.”

“You have a house?”

It was a very short phone call.

Relatively soon after that, we got the green light to submit two songs and a treatment (they tried to get three songs [in five minutes {for thirty cents}], but my evil agent held our ground and they got two). I received an email the night we sent the material, saying how exciting it was all sounding and that we’d meet soon. Which we did. It was then that we learned that they were both “disappointed” by what we’d submitted after all. The producer explained that he’d wanted the songs to sound more “iconic” – his word – like the ones in Hurricane. (Can something be considered iconic if nobody’s heard of it?) In my defense, Hurricane takes place on a New England beach in 1938, not a stifling jury room in the 50s, so I attempted to break it down. One of the things I tried explaining was that as we were contracted to do a FIRST DRAFT, this required some exploratory experimentation, and that there would be no shortage of melodies down the road; it’s kind of what I do, after all. Iago said, “Well, the thing you have to realize about musical theatre” about thirteen more times, and we were done. They had until January 1 to decide whether or not we would continue.

We got the green light in February (detecting a theme yet?), and began the collaboration, notwithstanding a couple of communication hiccups too mundane to go into here (not between David and me; we were Skype-ing like the wind). We worked great together, and were making real progress, we felt. We had been shooting for a completely unrealistic deadline of a FIRST DRAFT by May 1, but as we got deeper into the project, we realized that we wanted this FIRST DRAFT to be really good. We were granted the almost-as-unrealistic target date of June 1. Finally, after about 14 weeks of pretty much 18-hour-plus days, I had written 22 new songs, including one to replace one of the earlier, non-iconic ones. We felt that we’d cracked this difficult piece wide open and produced a very strong FIRST DRAFT, and were excited to share it. We submitted it on June 1, and you will be shocked to learn it was met with absolute silence for a month.

Last night, the following email arrived:

Apologies for taking so long to get back to you. I wanted to review the score etc with ______ so it took me a while. Thank you for a very inventive and ceative effort. I know you put a lot of work into it. Although the musical approach is interesting, it isn’t at all what I expected or was looking for. I’m happy to discuss further but I think at this point I need to go in another direction.
Thanks again for the interest in the project.

Yep, I got fired. By email. An email in which “creative” was spelled wrong.

I want to be clear: this isn’t about bashing the man I just did a year’s worth of work for in 14 weeks, without so much as an acknowledgment until its unceremonious dismissal (I mean, anyone can see that’s not what this is). I’ve said before that he’s a nice guy, and I stand by that. I also think he’s trying to do a good thing, and I actually like him. True, his people skills are absolute shit, and he hasn’t got a clue as to what he’s doing, but luckily he has a helper – one who remembers the thing about musical theatre, at that. This isn’t a “poor me” post, either – though I do like to point out to my old friends who think I’m having a grand time living my dream in the big city that it’s not all as glamorous as it may appear. This business can be gratifying and thrilling, sure, when it’s not being demoralizing, humiliating and infuriating – as it tends to skew more often than not. I’ll post some of the home demos of the rejected songs in the coming weeks, so you guys can judge for yourselves if they’re not what you were looking for either. Of course, you do know that hearing a home demo of a song is not the same as having a cast of 30 scream “The Dream of Rhode Island” at you in the St Clement’s Theatre, right? (Christ, I hope somebody does.) But I do think the musical premise is pretty cool – a sort of HiLo’s-meets-Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-meets-Brubeck as channeled through Joe Jackson and interpreted by me kind of thing. Y’know, the usual. I’m really proud of it, but what do I know? I do not have a house.

In the unlikely event that my successor has not already been chosen, much less engaged, I just thought that I’d give a heads-up to the other writers out there that this guy is operating in our very midst. It’s hardly news: everyone knows the industry is rife with weasels and bottom feeders who possess no vision, much less tact. (Kind of like the record biz used to be, and we all know what happened to them.) So now that I’ve been fucked over by one of my very own, I’m willing to share the experience with you, hapless reader. I can’t give you his name, but his initials are Martin Grant. That’s MARTIN GRANT. Pronounced as spelled.

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8 Responses to Make That Thirteen Angry Men: The End of an Error

  1. Bret says:

    How do you spell Douche?

  2. Michael Bunn says:

    omigod, Michael. I knew you were talented, but this is one cool piece of writing. I hadn’t followed your blog until today; now I’ve read every entry. More, please!

    Keep up the good work. You now have a faithful follower in Savannah, GA.

  3. David Hurst says:

    …genius! Yes, indeed – FUCK Martin Grant. I want to hear all 22 songs immediately. He probably doesn’t even know who Lambert, Hendricks & Ross is, let alone the amazing Hi-Lo’s. But what do I know? I’m not the ceative type! Mrs. Channing Tatum xo

  4. Deirdre Bergeron says:

    Michael- LOVE your writing- HATE your story. What a jerk- he has NO idea clearly what is involved in writing one song much less writing a whole show’s worth that must be tied together logically and follow the plot lines and move the storyline through character’s voices, and well anyway. I am just a first grade teacher and I think I understand it more than this idiot. FAIL Martin Grant- MAJOR FAIL!

  5. Moira Stanton says:

    Well, there is comfort in the realization that the jerk will never get the project off the ground at this rate. The thing you have to remember about musical theatre is that it actually requires music to happen. Not just meetings with your advisor. And unless you can write said music, or your advisor can, you better not screw those that can (figuratively, of course).

    Glad you gave out his initials. Love your writing and really love your music.

    A fan in Texas . . . (via Suzanne Brockman)

  6. Ros says:

    I love your work. How dare they treat you like that! Come to Australia – we will love your work and treat you well !

  7. Ed Gaffney says:

    I really need to get a lot of money so I can produce your stuff and stop all of this bullish*t.

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