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EIGHT

Enter Lawyer #2

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016
From: Jeff Whitty

To: Leslie [redacted]
Subject: Help
 
Dear Leslie,
 
I write you with the generous recommendation of [name redacted]. I attach him on this email.
 
My name is Jeff Whitty and I am a writer. I am best known as the bookwriter of "Avenue Q."
 
I would like to engage your services. I will keep this as brief as possible. There is much to the story I will leave out for time is of the essence. I will answer any questions you have freely and honestly.
 
In short, I authored a musical that I quit in June (by phone to its producers). It is called "Head Over Heels." It is a jukebox musical of the Go-Go's catalog. No contracts have been signed securing my exit. 
 
Right now there is an Equity 29-Hour Reading happening in New York of the show which bears my name as author. 
 
In truth I am the workhorse generator of a work that was stolen from me when my ex-agent John Buzzetti gave director Michael Mayer full creative control on the project. Mayer fired my music supervusor Carmel Dean and yanked her arrangements from the show thereby destroying my excruciatingly meticulous script. (The show is set in Elizabethan times and is entirely in iambic pentameter.)
 
I want to send them a legal notice that they cannot use my name or even suggest that I am author of a work from which I had my control swindled. (More on that later.)
 
I will forward the contract after this email.
 
I believe that any textual changes are still subject to my approval. 
 
I fall short of "cease and desist" for I believe in playing the long game. It is to my advantage that the show as butchered by Mr. Mayer be laid out. I prefer to let the ersatz version fail on its own terms so I cannot be blamed for the show's commercial life being killed (for now). 
 
I am a convenient dumping ground for their malfeasance.
 
And this kind of behavior always gets its just desserts. I know this. I'd rather let them embarrass themselves than allow them to say I spoiled their fun. You are free to tell anyone that this is my tactic.
 
I stop short at allowing my name to be affixed to shoddy work.
 
My lack of cooperation will kill the show in the short term. I'll simply escalate if they do not back down. I have confidence that Friday will speak for itself. I play the long game for my financial security and to preserve my artistic integrity. …
   
Please call me when you can at [phone number redacted].
 
If necessary I'll fly to New York and storm in with an air horn but I'd prefer to deal with this from Los Angeles.
 
Thank you Leslie --
 
Best,
Jeff Whitty

 

I thus engaged Leslie as my attorney at $500/hr. (I worked with Rippy on a percentage basis.) Leslie had a lot of catching up to do - and fast, because my former law firm immediately moved to seize my prize property, which they had to right to claim.

 

It is clear now that Leslie had a clear path to dismantle the attacks by Levine, Plotkin and Menin – by prosecuting the clear conflicts within the firm, putting me in the power seat. I should have sued Levine, Plotkin and Menin. But I didn’t know my rights nor my options.

 

Nonetheless, Leslie offered a spirited defense in his opening salvos over the months that followed:

 
November 1, 2016
 
To: Susan Mindell, Esq.
Re: “Head Over Heels”
Jeff Whitty / Donovan Leitch & Rick Ferrari / Gwyneth Paltrow
 
Dear Susan:
 
As we have already discussed on the phone, I have been retained by Jeff Whitty regarding the above-referenced matter.
 
I am advised that your clients, Donovan Leitch, Rick Ferrari and Gwyneth Paltrow, the named Producers in the April 15, 2013 Deal Memo with my client, are in breach of said agreement for reasons that include, but are not limited to, (i) their failure to acquire my client’s approval regarding the Book and the intended disposition of the Merged Musical, and (ii) their actual and/or intended introduction of a co-Author into the production of Head Over Heels.
 
Jeff Whitty is the sole owner of the copyrighted dramatic work entitled Head Over Heels and he expressly does not consent to the use of his work (or any variations or adaptations thereof) by your clients or by any third parties unless it is with his written permission or in strict compliance with the aforesaid Deal Memo.
 
In the interest of addressing and hopefully resolving the issues I have raised, I ask the following of you and your clients:
 
1. Cease any and all uses of Jeff Whitty’s Book (and any variations or adaptations thereof) until such time as we have reviewed copies of those versions or adaptations of his Book that were used in the recent New York and Poughkeepsie readings of Head Over Heels. Accordingly, I ask that you forward them to me.

 

2. Cease any and all statements or representations that Jeff Whitty’s Book (and any variations or adaptations thereof) are part of your clients’ proposed production of Head Over Heels. 

 

3. Indicate whether your clients have or intend to assign, transfer or convey any of their rights under the Deal Memo. If yes, please provide us with copies of said instrument(s). 

 

4. Indicate what, if any, interest New York Stage And Film Company may have in Head Over Heels.
 
We appreciate your continued cooperation and look forward to resolving the above issues in an amicable fashion.
 
Very truly yours,
Leslie

 

I will annotate within Mindell’s subsequent reply:

 

November 4, 2016
TO: Leslie 
FROM: Susan Mindell, LPMNY
 
Dear Leslie:
 
We are writing to respond to your letter dated November 3, 2016 regarding Head Over Heels, the Go-Go's Musical (the "Play").
Without going into a full history of all of the relevant facts, we disagree that Producers breached the Deal Memo; in fact, from their perspective, Jeff is in breach. Be that as it may, and since your letter indicated a willingness to resolve the matter amicably, Producers would like this letter to focus on accomplishing that. A bit of additional background may help contextualize how we got here: following the initial three-hour production of the Play at Oregon Shakespeare Festival ("OSF") the Play needed a new director and it needed to be shorter to have a chance to succeed on Broadway.
 

Yes, I couldn’t agree more, and I never offered any resistance to shortening the show. I had one preview to revise, for God's sakes, in which I cut 20 minutes. It's okay if the first production runs long - it offers room to see what works.

The sentence "Without going into a full history of all the relevant facts" is classic Mindell,  as I would later realize.

 

Mindell’s inexperience is evident here in her assumption that I – or anyone else - considered the first production as the final product. That’s insanity to anyone who understands the development process. Pilot productions are a necessary step in the process, allowing the artists to see how the show plays. As I wrote ad nauseum, I never intended the final product to be three hours long – and my revised version, well underway at this point, had an ideal running time of 2:35.

 

Tony winning Broadway director, Michael Mayer, expressed interest (which Jeff was excited about) and would not agree to join the artistic team unless revisions were made. The Producers partnered with NYSF to do this work in a work session with Mr. Mayer (scheduled with Jeff's knowledge, consent and planned participation) over a one-week period in June/July 2016. Unfortunately, Jeff didn't collaborate, or come to New York (even though plane tickets had been purchased with his consent); and, as he was reluctant to change the OSF version in the manner suggested by Mr. Mayer, and as the director insisted it needed to be changed, the Producers were ultimately forced to consider additional editing of the script. Adding personnel to contribute to and change playscripts on Broadway is not at all uncommon.

 

An absurd statement considering the hundreds of changes that I planned for the next development steps - until Mayer made the original work insensible by pulling the arrangements in order to benefit his agency buddy.

Also - notice that throughout, Mindell depicts Mayer as "Mr. Mayer" while I'm just plain ol' "Jeff." Mayer is the upper-crust. I am their servant, a child.

 

In this instance, Producers absolutely reached out to Jeff to deal with these changes before, during and immediately following the NYSF work session.

 

A certain lawyer's nose is growing. I’m not sure if Mindell is lying on purpose or repeating lies that she was told. I never had any such discussion with the producers nor anyone else, because they wouldn't engage. I offered many times to take them through the script to discuss the decimation of the hard-won storytelling. They never took me up on it, likely because it involved actual work instead of repeating the orders of my agent and lawyer. No one reached out to me during the Vassar/NYSF workshop and I did not get word on it until well afterwards.

 

They never intended to not obtain Jeff's written permission and began negotiations with Jeff's former agents, William Morris, over the summer to accomplish this. At the same time, proceeding with the Reading (with respect to which no admission was charged) just a few months after NYSF was due to Mr. Mayer's schedule.

 

“They never intended to not obtain Jeff’s written permission,” eh, Ms. Mindell? Why can’t she say, “They intended to obtain Jeff’s written permission?” The answer is that the producers had no such intention. They were fleecing me.

 

The matter here is not whether the producers charged admission – the matter is that they deceptively portrayed this as a “work session” with no outsiders invited when it was a commercial public reading instead.

 

Jeff was aware of the Reading, and asked Producers to remove his name, which they did.

 

I also asked my lawyer Conrad Rippy AT HER FIRM to deliver a “cease and desist” and he fired me instead.

 

It’s stunning that Mindell never addresses the fact that I was until very recently represented by her law firm and she has my confidential information as a result - including my precarious financial position, which they would later exploit to seize my work and force me to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

 

Promptly following the Reading, Producers reached out to Jeff again to ask for the contact information for his new representative, and we called you promptly to pick up negotiations to find an amicable solution which would allow the show to progress in a way that preserves Jeff’s remuneration. We are prepared to continue on that path.

 

Responding to your specific requests, we don't think it is necessary that Jeff review copies of the versions since Producers are not planning to diminish Jeffs compensation (other than perhaps with respect to subsidiary rights).

 

If I had actual lawyers instead of con artists, I would hold creative control. Such control does not belong to lawyers, nor agents with no experience developing a work of commercial art in the most difficult of storytelling mediums.

 

I wasn't being possessive – I was being a businessman. It’s sickening to observe LPMNY’s lawyers playing artist and producer, making their clients’ decisions, enjoying the control while doing none of the work and taking none of the risks.

Producers did not use Jeffs name in connection with the Reading and haven't since then, and they are prepared to continue to not do so. William Morris had indicated that taking Jeffs name off the project might be important to Jeff and Producers will consider that as part of the settlement, if that is still Jeffs wish. ...

 

Hey Susan, reread that last paragraph. Doesn't it make you think that things are kind of off the rails?

Within a year, my former law firm would deliberately drive me to financial ruin with legal fees I accrued fighting them; they then used my poverty to force me to affix my name to the show, so they could tout it as being from "the mind that brought you Avenue Q.

 

At this point it's still my show, let me remind my reader. It's my property. The nerve of these people.

 

The Producers have been in regular touch with the Go-Go's since the inception of this project and continue to be. Producers have the Go-Go's full support of the most current version of the Play to be directed by Mr. Mayer.

 

This is because the Go-Go’s were fed a steady diet of opportunistic lies from their law firm. Which was also my law firm. Which was also the producers’ law firm. Lordy. What a mess LPMNY made. Yet they kept doubling down, greasing the rails for a $15 million flop - and inevitably, this very journal of abuse. 

(An aside: I hate writing every word of this. But it has to be said.)

 

When I first spoke to you on October 26, 2016 I indicated my clients would like to settle this matter with Jeff. That continues to be the case. If Jeff is amenable we would like to send proposed settlement terms to you promptly so you can review them with Jeff. Please let us know his decision. We appreciate your willingness to resolve the matter and look forward to hearing from you.

 

My takeaway: shame, shame, shame on you, Susan Mindell. Disgusting. The damn nerve. Head Over Heels was my property. Your people needed to ask my permission because I made it.

 

After some refusal, at last a hard copy of the script for the second workshop arrived. I dug in – and was left dumbstruck by the careless, lazy patch-job of Mayer and his cronies.

It was like a satire: if one wanted to depict the effect of craven greed on audience-pleasing art, they could make no more cutting parody than what life delivered. 

In my absence and without my consent, Mayer engaged a writer named James Magruder to take over the book. Magruder’s last theater credit was the book for Mayer’s flop musical The Triumph of Love in 1994. He had written nothing for the stage in 22 years.

In MacGruder's hands, all of the iambic pentameter was fake that wasn't mine: formatted to look like the genuine article, but a bumpy gravel road compared to the effortless glide of true meter. No one aboard the ersatz Head Over Heels apparently noticed at any point - though the rules of iambic pentameter can be learned in 30 seconds. Or if any did notice, they didn't care. They were selling the surface.

In the Lewis Carroll upside-down world they fostered, this was smart business.

The most baffling change was Mayer’s deletion of the audience’s favorite character in the pilot production: Philanax, the Fool, who served as the audience’s guide and companion throughout the show. One needs but watch the videos to hear the warm, riotous audience response that he received. I worked carefully to make him wise and funny, not arch and "clever." Cutting Philanax would be akin to cutting the emcee from Cabaret; the story isn’t much affected, but what is left?

 

In my production, I pulled off the feat of making nearly every lyric - probably 98 percent - fit the story perfectly with very few changes. This is what brought Head Over Heels to a new level of the jukebox form. Reminder: the music was not written to tell story. Making the music fit seamlessly was an insane puzzle that took years, and were I allowed to complete my work (as was my right), every single lyric would have fit for its Broadway bow.

 

In Mayer and MacGruder’s hands, entire songs no longer fit any context. In Act One of the original production, Carmel Dean devised a musical movement where three songs were stacked one upon the other with no dialogue between them. In performance, it's thrilling to have two songs play back-to-back (and it takes tremendous strategic structuring in the book scenes before). Carmel pulled off a nearly-unheard-of three songs stacked. This movement took months of effort for both Carmel and I to achieve.

Michael slashed the entire movement when he pulled the arrangements. In place of this musical moment, he shoved a song called "Cool Jerk" that wasn't even written by the Go-Go's, reportedly because he wanted to add a 1960's groovy "Laugh In" feel to the Elizabethan jukebox musical.

Not a single lyric had a thing to do with the situation. 

 

I never used “It’s a jukebox musical!” as an excuse to foist shoddy storytelling on the ticket-buying public. Jukebox musicals charge the same outrageous prices as musicals with an original score.

 

The back-and-forthing with LPMNY reached a stalemate.

 

On November 29th, I was forwarded an email that Carmel received from producer Donovan Leitch:

 

FROM: Donovan Leitch
TO: Carmel Dean

 

Hi Carmel,I hope you're well.

 

I would love to get on a call with you. I know Head Over Heels didn't turn out the way you'd hoped but there are still a few great arrangements of yours in the show and we have a fast track to Broadway. I want to talk about where things stand. Please let me know if you can chat. Thanks,Donovan

 

His condescension is matched by his cluelessness. Donovan fired her (by email, no less) for no reason ever given, and had no right to use any of her work in the show. This email was a puzzle soon solved by an email I received a couple of days later: a perfectly composed and bullet pointed email, purportedly written by Charlotte Caffey:

 

December 1, 2016
TO: Jeff Whitty
FROM: Charlotte Caffey [of the Go-Go’s]
BCCed: [The Other Go-Go’s]
SUBJECT: Head Over Heels
 
Dear Jeff,
 
Hello from all parts of the globe! 
 
First of all, we want you to know how much we all appreciate and applaud your inspiration and brilliance in creating the original book for Head Over Heels, and how wonderful it is to see our songs used in such a creative way from such an unexpected source. 
 
Rather than going back into the history of this endeavor ...
 

(I must point out that this line is awfully similar to the "classic Mindell" line I pointed out above: "Without going into a full history of all the relevant facts ..." It strongly suggests that Susan Mindell may have written this document for the Go-Go's to sign and send.)

... we want to talk about what is happening now.  We don’t know what you know or don’t know about the status of things, but we compiled a list of everything that has happened in the last couple of months:
 
The OCT 21, 2016 29 hour read in NYC created a huge buzz for Head Over Heels.  

 

The Head Over Heels Lab is confirmed for January 15th - February 12th at the Baryshnikov Theatre.

 

There is a February 9th presentation for theatre owners and investors and we are told that the show will get fully capitalized.

 

There is a clear path to Broadway for Summer 2017 opening. 
 
These are all the people on board so far:
 
  • [Seven actor names redacted]  
  • Michael Mayer - director
  • Tom Kitt - music arrangement
  • (Carmel Dean -additional music arrangements) 
  • Spencer Liff - choreographer
  • Julian Crouch - stage design
  • Arianne Phillips - costume design
  • Kevin Adams - lighting design 
  • (Costumes and set designs are already being sketched.)
  • Chris Boneau - PR
  • Serino Coyne - Advertising 
  • 101 Productions - General Management 
 
We have learned a lot of things in this process and we understand that the odds of actually getting a show on Broadway are astronomical.  We are all very enthusiastic and committed to the Michael Mayer/Jim Magruder version of HOH and we are so excited that an opening on Broadway is just around the corner in 2017.  

 

Just as a reminder-we freely gave you our entire catalog of music in good faith, which you have exclusively had for the past 6 years.  And during this past summer when we did our last tour we did a ton of press.  We praised you and HOH and told our fans that even though we are retiring from touring, our music will live on, on the Broadway stage in Head Over Heels.
 
That being said makes it even harder to say this: If this version of HOH does not move forward, then in January 2017 we will bring our catalog to another writer to tell a completely new and different story with our music.
 
As you can tell from our email-we are thrilled about the current show and its current trajectory, and we are respectfully asking you, Jeff, to please let this happen.
 
Sincerely,
Belinda, Jane Gina, Charlotte & Kathy

 

The subtext of this email was so bald that I had to chuckle. SURRENDER, JEFF WHITTY. YOU ARE OUTNUMBERED! I was disappointed, too. I’d counted on the Go-Go’s as fellow artists to stand up for me - for after all, I spent three arduous years creating a show with their music, a work of commercial art that was undeniably prized. For it was. Less self-centered artists might express sincere (instead of perfunctory) gratitude rather than affix their names to such a toxic email.

Charlotte later claimed to my face that she and the other Go-Go’s got together and drafted this email themselves with no outside help. But if so – why did Donovan send his "a few great arrangements" email a few days prior? The answer, I believe, can be found in the fact that Carmel was included in the list but in parentheses (giving them an “out” if caught lying – “It was in parentheses!”) which suggests a collaboration with the producers – and likely LPMNY as well. The tidy perfectly-punctuated language and bullet-points were hardly typical of any of the Go-Go’s nor the producers.

 

Alas, Carmel did not comply with Donovan’s request. After all, he threw three years of her “great arrangements” down the toilet in a breezy email ten months before. She smartly passed on rejoining the circus and washed her hands of the whole mess - leaving the exploiters to fall on their swords.

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