Stage 32 CEO Richard Botto was recently interviewed by Julie Gray. Julie runs the terrific screenwriting resource website, Just Effing Entertain Me, as well as the extremely popular Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition which is currently open for submissions. She is a tireless and selfless worker, and simply a generous ally for those toiling in the screenwriting trade.
RB thanks her for the opportunity.
Stage 32 Staff
A while back, I became aware of a new social network for film, television, and theater creatives with a huge screenwriting community, called Stage 32. Over time, the site seemed to grow and become more and more well known. I struck up an email correspondence and ultimately friendship with Richard Botto, the man behind Stage 32 and found in him a kindred spirit. I thought it might be fun to interview Richard here on Just Effing, and make you aware of the awesome, positive resource that Stage 32 is!
So Richard. Richard, Richard, Richard. You are a gem. I just want to hug you! I found Stage 32 gosh, over a year ago and I was so impressed by it and by you. As you know, I have been consulting and delving into the world of screenwriters for many years now and sites likes yours come and ago but there are two things that impressed me immediately: the fact that the site is for all disciplines, not just screenwriters, and that Stage 32 has a very positive attitude. Having gotten to know you, I attribute that directly to you. How do you keep the site so positive? Do you have a policy or is it just that you attract like-minded creatives who tend to be positive?
Well, first off, thank you so very much for the kind words and compliments. I'm humbled and grateful.
I appreciate that you've taken note of the positive energy flowing through Stage 32. Frankly, it's one of the things I'm most proud of. It's no secret we live in a cynical world. And I don't think it would surprise you if I said there are studies out there which indicate that when it comes to social media or "response sites", people are more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one by a 5:1 ratio.
Now, I personally believe the reason that ratio is so high is due to the fact that many sites have decided not to have a compass when it comes to user discussions. They allow the masses to bite, scratch, and claw until the original argument becomes a blur. From day one, I was committed not to allow that to happen on Stage 32. This is a tough business. One where you hear "No" infinitely more than you do "Yes". You need to have a tough skin. But the reality is most creatives, especially those who have fought a few battles, are overwhelmingly positive people. Further still, they thrive in a positive creative environment. So that was plan A: To create a network where free speech was encouraged, but where the motivation to speak would be sparked by a welcoming, positive environment.
One of the ways I felt we could accomplish this was by having me out in front. First off, I do not welcome negativity into my life. Positive criticism? All day. Negative and destructive commentary? Not happening. Second, I am a creative like everyone else on the site. Having toiled as an actor, a screenwriter, and a producer, I've more than had my share of battles and people telling me "No"...I've been in the trenches - and, let's face it, as long as you are in the game, you're always in the trenches - and I'm happy to share my experiences to help educate and guide others. This doesn't make me different from any other creative who understands that collaboration happens on and off the set or stage. It's just that I'm fronting a social network catering to creatives which gives me a sort of unique power to reach a large number of people with a single post.
This is why when you join the site, you immediately have a welcome post from me. It's extremely positive and encouraging in nature and, I feel, sets the tone of what the site is ultimately about.
What happens from there is up to the user. But, what we have found is that 99.99% of our members are overwhelmingly positive and selfless. Since our launch over a year ago, we have had to warn only a handful of members about abusive behavior. And even in those situations, these were usually good people getting caught up in a moment.
Stage 32 has really grown - you have almost 100K members at this point, right? To what do you attribute your growth?
Yes, we are now over 100,000 members from 185 countries. There are officially 194 countries out there, so we're pretty proud of that statistic.
I think the rapid growth can be attributed to a few factors. The first of those is the fact that the site is free to join. This was a choice we made early on. Without sounding Polyannaish, our goal with this site has always been to give every creative a chance to succeed. The biggest reason most creatives fail is because they quit. And most of those people give up because they simply cannot make the connections necessary to succeed. So we view the site, and again, this is going to sound Polyannaish, as a Dream Factory of sorts. Which brings be to reason two of why we have seen such quick growth:
It works! Literally thousands of our members have found work and representation, launched projects, secured funding, or simply made a life and career changing connection. The success stories flow in daily. Every single person who has found success on Stage 32 had the same behavioral patterns in common: They took the time to learn about all the resources and features the site has to offer - and there are a ton - and worked the site each and every day. They were tireless in their approach...They were selfless...They contributed...They collaborated within the four walls of the site.
Bottom line, you get out what you put in. I tell people that all the time. If you log in once a month, have three people in your network, never post, don't familiarize yourself with all the site offers by reading the GETTING STARTED and FAQ sections, you will have no success. I equate that with sitting on your couch, waiting for the phone to ring. Good luck with that. Like everything in life, maximum effort leads to maximum reward.
Finally, because the site is free, we ask all of our members to pay it forward and invite at least 5 fellow creatives to the site. Many members of the community go way beyond. We have one member who has invited over two hundred and fifty people during the last month. Many tell their acting or filmmaking classes about 32. Or they'll promote to their entire Facebook or LinkedIn lists. Or if they're working on a film or stage play, they'll tell their entire cast and crew. Bottom line, the more creatives, the stronger the community, and the stronger the community, the more opportunities.
Tell me about YOU. Where are you from? What is your background?
Well, I've always been a lover of film and theater. Even at a young age, I knew who was directing or writing this film or that. Knew actors the same way I knew athletes.
When I was about 6, I started going to acting classes and camps. I landed my first lead at 8, which I remember being ridiculously cool and terrifying at the same time. Through the years I started writing as well. I wrote a novel at 22.
During the early 00's, I started RAZOR magazine, which was a men's lifestyle publication which shared space with the GQ's and Esquire's of the world. My goal was to be the magazine of choice for those moving beyond their Maxim years. To that end, I brought in long-form journalism which I felt would compliment what was a progressive editorial. At that time, so many magazines had eliminated long-form stylings, choosing instead to go the "McNugget" route of content delivery. But we felt there was still a desire for such writing. We were very successful at it, attracting such talent as David Mamet, Mike Lupica, James Carville, and even celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, Paul Haggis, Richard Dreyfuss contributing.
At its peak, RAZOR had a readership of 1.5 million in the US. We won awards for our editorial. Ultimately, print, especially for a one title publisher, is going the way of the dinosaur. We ceased publication in 2005 at the peak of our readership, but without the advertising support necessary to proceed.
During and overlapping the RAZOR years, I was also a sports radio talk host on ESPN and FOX affiliates.
Since that time, I have been involved mostly in the film game. In 2011, I was an associate producer on ANOTHER HAPPY DAY, which starred Demi Moore, Ellen Barkin, Thomas Hayden Church, Kate Bosworth, and Ellen Burstyn. The film was scripted and directed by Sam Levinson, Barry's son. It premiered at Sundance and Sam won the award for Best Screenplay.
I've also concentrated on my scripts. I've been fortunate enough to have a couple finish as semi-finalists and finalists in some of the more prestigious screenwriting contests. One of those scripts, THE END GAME is currently in pre-production and I'm thrilled to say that the connection I made to help push that forward was made on Stage 32.
Why the name Stage 32?
I'm a huge Citizen Kane fan as well as a big fan of Orson Welles and his contributions to the filmmaking world. I've read quite a few biographies on Welles. One of the biggest misconceptions stemming from the Kane and Magnificent Amberson days was that he was not a team player. That the Hollywood brass saw him as the proverbial man on an island. Ultimately, this perception was nothing more than the Talent Vs. Suit battle which filmmakers still wage each and every day.
Everyone who worked with Welles on the talent side has hailed him as the ultimate collaborator. I agree. Now the soundstage where Citizen Kane was filmed was an old RKO sound stage which is now Paramount 32. Thus the name, Stage 32.
Chinatown was filmed on that sound stage as well. A little added bonus.
What future plans do you have for Stage 32? Where do you see the site going?
I could tell ya, but I'd have to kill ya. I joke. Kinda.
I take it back, I take it back!
I kid! We have a ton of plans for the future. You want to implement everything yesterday. We're a very small crew. There's only two full timers with a few people who generously give their time on a part time basis.
Derrick, our CTO, does all the programming. He's a mad genius. Brilliant and tireless.
Everything above the line, so to speak, falls to me.
So we have to prioritize our efforts. When we first started the site, there were two main goals. The first was to create a world where anything from concept to completion was possible. I think we've attained that. Whether it's finding cast and crew, raising funding, or anything else that contributes to a project going from an idea in someone's head to a completed project, it's been accomplished on Stage 32 over and over again.
Going forward, we will be looking to expanding that world into marketing and distribution. I can't get into specifics at the moment, but ultimately we plan on moving the needle beyond the completion end game. In many ways, it's already happening. We have a ton of sales agents and distributors on the site. But, we have some ideas internally that could help change the game for many of our members. We're excited about them. They won't happen overnight, but they will in time.
We also have a few big box ideas for enhancing member communication. We are always tweaking original ideas within the site. But we have some new features coming down the pike that will be well received by the community, we believe.
After a long wait, our iPhone app is now live - Android had been live for a while. We'll continue to enhance that experience as well.
Our second goal with the site was to bring an entertainment/educational element. The most obvious way we have done this, and something I was happy to bring along from my RAZOR days, is the Stage 32 blog. The blog has won multiple Webby Awards and has featured all levels of talent from students to an Academy Award Nominee. I'm quite proud of that section.
Another way we have brought education to the site is through the Marketplace. By making deals with some extremely influential people and organizations, we have been able to bring discounts to the Stage 32 community on products, services, conferences, webinars, and more.
We plan on expanding the Marketplace shortly. This will be one stop shopping - the Home Depot of film and theater creation if you will - for those looking to further their education or broaden the scope of their craft.
Although this site costs money to produce, it will always be free. The Marketplace will allow us to offset some of our costs. Additionally, and this is something I'm excited about as well, we are in talks to bring in a charity benefitting the arts which will share in a portion of the profits we bring in through the Marketplace.
Beer or wine?
Tough one. I'm an equal opportunity imbiber. But I do love to cook. I guess you could call me a foodie, although that word makes me want to string someone up by their toes. When I cook, I opt for the vino. When I come off the slopes or the beach, I'm throwin' back a beer. And if I'm bellying up to the bar, it's Jack Daniels or the occasional scotch. Sometimes I mix and match. I don't discriminate.
So I guess my answer to that question should be the same one I put down next to SEX on doctor's form I'm forced to fill out. Beer or wine? Yes.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs. Unequivocably. I have two. The first is a 12 year old Pit Bull named Malo. His nickname since he was young is The Speed Bump. Quite possibly the most mellow dog who has walked this earth.
The second is an 11 year old beagle named Penny Lane - after the character in ALMOST FAMOUS, not the Beatles song. She's a complete character...An oversized human personality trapped in a 25lb body. A laugh a minute.
What is your pet peeve?
Can I name a few? Negativity. Cynicism. Selfishness. A sense of entitlement. I guess the latter three are cousins to the first one, so I'll focus there. It's just so easy to be negative. And in this internet age, there are those who grow brass balls behind the glow of their computer screen. But fighting negativity isn't easy. It's a zero sum game. So I choose not to do it. Not to waste my energy on it. Sometimes, if I feel as if it is coming from a place of ignorance, I may choose to attempt to instruct and educate in a positive way. But in all other cases, I don't allow it to infiltrate my life.
Who do you most admire from history?
It would probably be cool and give the perception of being somewhat deep if I pulled out some obscure 5th century poet, but I'm going to say my grandparents. Both sets. They were such different people from their upbringings, career choices, and lifestyles, but their cores were exactly the same. They were fueled by love and friendship. They held themselves accountable at all times. They didn't manage their lives, they lived them freely and easily because of the values they held so dear. They had balance. They had purpose. They had light. And because of all this, they were loved and admired by all who circled in their orbit.
No way I am who I am today without their example and their guidance.
How does it feel to helm a website that brings so many creatives together under one roof?
Rewarding. Each and every day. The site is a labor of love. It's a ton of work, but when you receive an email, a DM, or read a post from someone whose life has changed by virtue of a connection he or she has made on the site, it conjures a feeling like no other. And these stories roll in all the time...increasing in frequency as we grow.
We used to say if we could make one person stay in the game and find success, we've accomplished something terrific. But the site has helped thousands. And we say, why stop?
Every creative who puts in the work, who hones their craft, who truly chases their dream as a career and not a hobby deserves a fair shake. Stage 32 balances the scales, and in many cases, tips them.
And that's rewarding as hell...
Thank you, Richard, for such a fun interview! Now, back to our awesome and generally hilarious email correpondence!
As a reminder, be sure to check out Just Effing Entertain Me and some of the raves Julie has earned for her service to screenwriters across the globe. And don't forget, the 2013 Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition is currently open for submissions!
RB and Julie are available for questions or remarks in the comments section below.
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