The Producers Problem
One of my favorite movies is The Producers, and here I mean the original version from 1968 directed by Mel Brooks and starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (not the 2005 re-make starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). For those of you unfamiliar with this comedy, here is the basic plot. A ne’er-do-well Broadway director (Mostel) and his accountant (Wilder) hatch a scheme to make money by producing a play that flops. The duo will go to backers and raise thousands more than is needed to produce a play. Of course, they’ll have to sell more than 100% of the profits to raise all of that money, but as long as the show flops –preferably closes on opening night– the backers will expect neither the return of their invested principal nor any profits. The duo can take the remaining money and head to Rio de Janeiro. Ah, but if the play is a hit then they’re in big trouble, because they’ve promised much more than 100% of the profits to the backers. Of course, they end up inadvertently producing a hit musical comedy (improbably titled “Springtime for Hitler”), which lands them in jail for fraud, where they start producing and over-selling yet another musical (more appropriately titled “Prisoners of Love”). That’s Mel Brooks.