Jul 17, 2020
Mr. Lou presents We will meet again, Part III | Fan Culture and Fandom
Do you ever look back and muse about the good old days before you-know-what? No point; now is the time for us creators of chameleonic spaces to rethink our content development for a post-you-know-what era – come what may.
Welcome to the third issue of “We Will Meet Again,” the monthly Showbiz & Culture newsletter from Semmel Concerts and SC Exhibitions to everybody on our B2B mailing list. We want to bring you topics of possible interest and to inspire you with the conversations we’ve been having with entertainment professionals from all over the world. We are planning to produce this newsletter until around April 2021, a point in time when (hopefully) our theatres, museums and concert arenas will be welcoming their staff, artists and visitors at full capacity again and when we will (hopefully) “meet again” at our conference, The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) in Los Angeles.
How do you do? Mr. Lou, our 1-year-old Dutch Kooikerhondje, and I recently drove to Berlin to visit my sister Bettina Scholz in her studio (pictured above). Bettina, a painter, is currently exhibiting at the renowned Kunsthal in Rotterdam. It seems that my family has a little love affair going with Holland… Bettina is creating art in many mediums, from jewellery to sculptures, but is most well known for her layered, 3D glass paintings.
She will lend me a few artworks for a pop-up exhibition I’m planning in early August at the 300-year-old roadhouse that I bought in a village near Bayreuth, city of Semmel’s HQ in Northern Bavaria. You can follow the project on Facebook and Instagram.
Mid-July is here, and you-know-what seems to be lingering longer than expected. Meanwhile, we are working on a new large-scale touring exhibition, scheduled to launch in 2023. But I’m reading more and more opinion pieces, as well as essays by museum curators, stating that the time of blockbuster exhibitions is over: the climate; social distancing, city tourism is no longer feasible; art handlers take too many flights, etc. So yesterday evening, I had a Zoom call with our curator in Los Angeles, and I asked her: Is it really a good idea for us to conceive the next blockbuster exhibition, with millions of euros of investment, a production budget which creates the necessity to sell 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 tickets on a single weekend or bank holiday? Do we all need to rethink our content development for a post-you-know-what era?
I’ll make every effort to explore this question here and in our future newsletters; perhaps this will even become the central theme of TEEM. This and August’s newsletter will explore fan culture and fandom.
In those halcyon times before you-know-what, Sandra Tomek from Vienna – our partner in crime for film- music concerts – called me to ask if we wanted to co-produce a tour with a composer-duo called Two Steps from Hell. Never heard of them? Well, all I can tell you is that there are millions of fans out there in the world who listen to their music every day, amounting to billions of streams and millions of views on YouTube.
Our first tour with composers Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix – the creators of Two Steps from Hell – was all ready to go for April and May 2020, and it was nearly sold out. Billions of streams? Thousands of concert tickets sold? Still no clue? What they do is called “Epic Music,” and that’s a musical genre which has a global fan force ranging in the millions. So, whether trailers for movie blockbusters (e.g. “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aquaman,” “Jurassic World”) or the opening ceremonies of big sporting events, they all rely on the music of Two Steps from Hell. So you’re very likely to have heard the captivating sounds of Two Steps from Hell before!
In early February, Annabell von Scanzoni of our video team at Semmel Concerts flew to Oslo to speak with Thomas, and I flew to LA to ask Nick: What is Epic Music? Here’s, an exclusive premiere for this newsletter, the resulting video: Watch on YouTube
We hope that our newly scheduled April/May 2021 tour will be possible, and if you’re a promoter out there, I’d recommend you reaching out to Michael Kainz project manager in my team and the man in charge of “Two Steps from Hell – Live”.
What the success of Two Steps from Hell suggests, and what Josh Sapan – a very influential TV executive and one of the driving forces behind “The Walking Dead” –predicted in an interview at the end of last year, was that the 2020s will become “the decade of super fans,” and this made me want to dig a little deeper. I asked Patrick A. Reed, a curator, journalist and collaborator on our “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes” team, to conduct a series of summer interviews about the topic of fandom for this newsletter. Today, we present to you the first two.
Patrick spoke last weekend with Vivek J. Tiwary, the number-one New York Times bestselling author of “The Fifth Beatle” and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” and Green Day’s “American Idiot,” as well as being a financier and investor in media and entertainment. He is the founder of Tiwary Entertainment Group and Musicians On Call, a non-profit organization that uses music and entertainment to complement the healing process.
Patrick A. Reed: What is the first thing you remember being a fan of?
Vivek J. Tiwary: Oh gosh. That’s hard to answer, because I’m a passionate fan of so many things! Both as a producer and as a creator, I’ve lived my life moving from passion to passion. But if I had to answer the question, it would probably be music... and specifically The Beatles. My parents were gigantic music fans, and I always joke that I was listening to The Beatles before I was born, as my parents had them playing in the house when my mom was pregnant. So yes, music first and foremost.
PR: What was your initial exposure to fan culture?
VT: When I was a kid, I would go to conventions – I grew up in New York City, so I was very fortunate that there were comic conventions – but these weren’t like the Comic-Con of today; they were much smaller and more focused. And I went to all of them, whenever I could. I remember getting my “Star Trek” Compendium signed by the actors from the show, filling in the gaps of my X-Men collection and saving up to buy a first printing of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” #1.
And certainly, at those conventions, you’d meet people, they’d introduce you to lesser-known film series, TV shows or new comic series…. That, to me, was the best part about it: getting to meet people and find out what they were passionate about and learn about things I didn’t previously know about or hadn’t given a proper chance.
I’m 47, so I didn’t grow up with social media; there was no email, this was the way it happened. You’d find new things by going booth-to-booth at conventions and chatting with people in the halls.
PR: How did you make the leap from “fan” to “professional fan”?
VT: My grandfather was a huge influence on my life. He was an entrepreneur, and growing up, he always said “You need to do what you love, and you need to work for yourself.” As a quick aside, when he said “work for yourself,” I suspect what he meant was “work for the family business,” but I took him pretty literally! And as I said, music was my first love.
So, from a very early age, I knew I wanted to work in the arts, probably with a focus on music, and I was kind of always pursuing that. When I went to college [at the University of Pennsylvania], I got an internship working for a local music production and publishing company. I studied business, and I also joined all the organizations I could: I booked concerts for the school, I put on an annual concert benefiting homeless causes, I worked at two college radio stations, I did record reviews for 34th Street [the arts supplement to The Daily Pennsylvanian newspaper] and then eventually I got a job with Sony Music as a college marketing rep. It became my job to pitch records to 34th Street, the record stores I shopped at and the college radio stations where I’d worked. So, I don’t think there was one “epiphany moment” where I made the leap from “fan” to “professional” – it was just that I loved music and the arts and I was always on the lookout for an opportunity.
I got a job working with record labels after I graduated, and when I left that job in 1999 to start my own company, I expanded into doing theatre. Theatre was another passion of mine. I was based in New York, so Broadway was right in my backyard, and I was lucky enough to meet some of the lead producers of “The Producers,” who took me under their wing and acted as mentors, and that became a huge learning experience for me. I then worked on “Hairspray,” and that also did well, so I had two really successful shows that I’d had a tangential involvement in, and that became more of my focus.
I then produced “A Raisin In The Sun” on Broadway, the version with Sean Combs/P. Diddy, and the success of that show was a big moment for me, because everybody had said “African Americans don’t come to Broadway, kids don’t come to Broadway, you’re going to lose your shirt,” and I thought, “that’s absurd, you give them something they want to see, they’ll come!” And they did.
And at that moment in time – I was very young, I was one of the younger producers on Broadway, and as far as I can tell, I think I was the only producer of colour on Broadway at that time – I felt like people were really looking at me and asking “what’s he going to do next?”
So I had to pick my next project very carefully. And that was kind of the beginning of creating “The Fifth Beatle.” Because I realized that I was really proud of “Raisin,” but it was a revival, it was a classic piece of African American literature, and I thought: next, I want to tell a new story. I’d been doing research on Brian Epstein since I was in college, and no one had really told that story, so I thought: if no one else has done it, why not me? And as I started pulling that story together, I realized that, as much as I loved stage, it felt much more like a graphic novel. So, as I’ve always done in my career, I just dove right in! As I said, I’d been a comics fan since I was a kid, so I knew the industry to some degree. I knew the publishing companies, I knew the writers, I knew the artists, and I just decided: I can do this!
PR: Currently, among other projects, you’re producing “Jagged Little Pill” – a Broadway show based on Alanis Morissette’s seminal pop album – and adapting “The Fifth Beatle” to film. In doing so, you’re crossing fandoms that are sometimes considered medium-specific and creating work that can appeal to different, distinct audiences. Do you think about this as you’re working, or are you just following your own passions and trusting that other people will react similarly?
VT: It’s a bit of both! I only develop projects that I’m personally passionate about, so I only work on things where I am also a fan... It’s important to make sure you’re creating work that the fans will enjoy, where they’ll maybe get some in-jokes, and appreciate it on a deeper level. I do try to build projects for which there are big built-in fan bases, because – to speak in business terms – those are marketable, and then you have a better chance of selling tickets. But you also need to make sure you craft material that those fans will care about, and that you think about what the fans might expect when they walk into an “American Idiot” musical or a “Jagged Little Pill” musical.
You know, like securing Beatles music rights. I worked very, very hard to get those for “The Fifth Beatle” film, and we got them, which is totally unprecedented... But the truth is, I felt we had to! If a fan goes to see a piece about Brian Epstein and The Beatles, they’re going to expect some Beatles music, right? So it’s worth the work. It’s worth making sure those things happen.
So, on the one hand, yes, I think about these things A LOT. On the other hand, because I’m a fan myself, I mostly just try to create something I’d want to see – and if I think that work is great, I’m already taking care of the fans, because I’m one of them. I don’t sit down and make a spreadsheet considering what things fans want or expect; I just do an occasional gut-check with myself to see if I’m passionate about the project and to make sure I’m serving the legacy I’m working in. If I’m comfortable with what I’m doing, then hopefully the rest of the fans will be too!
PR: Do you foresee fan culture and fandom evolving or changing in some ways over the next decade or so?
VT: Well, because fan franchises have become such gigantic business, and fan culture has produced so many huge moneymakers, I think you will see a lot of the bigger media entities continuing to lean heavily on this area, and we’ll keep seeing big properties developed into as many media as possible. Comics and movies and books and merchandise and TV shows and animated spin-offs… I think we’ll keep seeing much, much more of that.
And what I think will help counterbalance some of the potentially negative impacts of this is that we’ll continue to see fans getting more involved in the creation of this material. New technologies will allow fans to be more involved, and there will be more opportunities for fan bases to weigh in on the development of projects. There’s already an explosion in fan fiction happening, and I think that’s useful for IP owners to note – not to get specific ideas, but to help nurture a new generation of creators and to get indicators of what the fans really care about.
Also, in technology and entertainment in general, there’s a greater move toward interactivity. Take theatre, for example, where we’re seeing huge advances in immersive theatre, audiences becoming a more vital part of the show. And I think all these trends lead to fans participating more in the object of their fandom.
So, to sum up: I think we may see more of a corporate presence in fandom, but also more fan presence in development and creation... I think there will continue to be a push-and-pull between those two impulses, and that tension, paired with advances in technology, will result in some great material, and a whole host of new experiences!
What an inspiring interview! Thank you, Vivek! I hope to meet you in person one day.
Patrick also spoke with Jim Demonakos, the founder of LightBox Expo and Emerald City Comic Con and a planned speaker at TEEM.
Patrick A. Reed: What was your first exposure to / experience with fandom and fan culture?
Jim Demonakos: I started from a pretty young age. If I think about what started me on the fan-culture path, it would be the Saturday-morning and after-school cartoons – “Transformers,” “GI Joe,” “Thundercats,” “M.A.S.K.,” “Smurfs,” “Duck Tales,” you name it – that was a heady mix. Add in the associated toys, plus I started reading comic books when I was 7 years old. I have been hooked into fan culture for a very long time.
PR: And how did you make the leap from fan to “professional” in this field?
JD: It was a domino series of events, but I would say the first thing that moved me closer to being a professional was becoming a web designer for comic-book creators. I did a few sites, and in tandem I opened a comic-book store, which then became a chain of stores selling comics and merchandise. Then I went into the convention field, starting Emerald City Comic Con. It was a mix for sure!
PR: How do you balance the concerns of keeping projects accessible to new audiences, while also making sure they have appeal for existing fan bases?
JD: I don’t think there’s a catch-all answer, of course. For me, personally, I try to keep my projects relevant to what’s going on in pop culture. In a way, then, it is a problem that solves itself. Your “base” is tried-and-true properties, franchises, etc., so you always make sure to serve those fan bases. Then, by also seeing what is new, what people are talking about now, and trying to tap into those fan bases as well, you mix them together and out comes something that feels relevant while making sure there’s something for everyone who attends.
PR: What are your primary considerations when creating fan-focused projects?
JD: I touched on it above, but the honest answer is that if you’re respectful of franchises and their fan bases, and create a space for them to be celebrated, then that is my primary goal. I want to create a space where you feel comfortable with expressing your fandom with fellow fans, and if I can make that space a reality, then I’ve succeeded.
PR: What directions do you see fandom moving in over the next few years?
JD: In a way, I feel like fandom itself isn’t changing, aside from the level of interaction they have with the brands themselves, as it feels like there is greater access. From an event point of view, what I think you’ll see is more events becoming focused, or even hyper-focused, so that instead of giant gatherings where everyone around you could be there for a different reason, the event is smaller but everyone is there for the same reason. If you unite under a single “flag” of a fan base, idea, etc., you find that your audience is far more interactive and willing to be part of something special!
I hope you enjoyed reading those interviews as much as I did! It’s always great to gain perspectives from such frank, knowledgeable people like Vivek or Jim.
Well, and as many of you know, I’m a big fan of Dr. Zahi Hawass, “Mr. Egypt” – the Indiana Jones of real-world Archaeologists. In early February, Oliver Zietzke and René Kästner flew to Budapest, where he was lecturing at our King Tut replica exhibition. Without further ado, here’s another exclusive video premiere: Watch on YouTube
Zurich?? Well, yes! There seems to be life and a rebellion under the oppressing regime of you-know-what, the Dark Lord who is against stadium concerts and blockbuster exhibitions and comic conventions.
Remember Darko Soolfrank, one of the founders of the Maag Music & Arts venues in Zurich, to whom I spoke in the first newsletter? He had “Van Gogh Alive” from our friends at Grande Exhibitions on display by then and was looking for a new summer exhibition for his venue, Hall 622.
A day or two after the newsletter went out, Darko phoned me again, and talked me into bringing King Tut to Zurich this summer. I was in Zurich last weekend, and I was excited to see that Darko and his team have opened a second show called “Black Art Matters.”
He is looking for more content, so don’t give up writing to him until he presents one of your concerts or exhibitions in Zurich: drkslfrnkbymgch
Sending you very best wishes from good old Germany,
Director of Exhibitions and International Projects at Semmel Concerts
Member of the Management Board
You can reach me at: schlzchrstphsmmld
“We Will Meet Again,” the motto of this monthly newsletter, is inspired by the video speech Queen Elizabeth II made after the outbreak of you-know-what. The Queen quoted Dame Vera Lynn’s famous wartime song, saying that the UK should take comfort in the fact that “better days will return, we will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”
And as we were putting the final touches on this newsletter, we read a concert review in The New York times about a drive-in concert in Noblesville, Indianapolis, which happened a few days ago: “As the Yacht Rock Revue concert drew to a close, the sun sank to the left of the stage and a chorus of car horns clamored for an encore. [Lead singer Nick] Niespodziani led one last round of jean-straining jams, and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ played over the loudspeakers as the crew closed up shop. Attendees returned hot dog buns and watermelon slices to Tupperware containers, and masked staff members waved as cars snaked back through the maze of orange cones and metal barriers to the 146th Street exit.”
The Newsletter Team:
Research & Writing: Stefanie Stubner, Annie Nocenti, Patrick A. Reed
Production: Oliver Zietzke
Proofreading: Hannah Sarid de Mowbray, Mandi Gomez
If you want to join me on the sofa for a video chat or have something to share with our newsletter community, drop a line to Stefanie Stubner.
Next newsletter on August 14th!