‘Taking Woodstock’: Little Book is a Big Movie
With an Academy Award-winning director like Ang Lee and a subject like Woodstock, the film "Taking Woodstock" is quite likely to find a large audience.
But the stories behind this story - how the author, Elliot Tiber, found a publisher, in particular - offer the reader a tale that is as unlikely as the one Lee is bringing to life on the silver screen.
"Taking Woodstock" was published by Square One Publishers on Long Island in August 2007.
Tiber's memoir recounts his parents' days of owning a motel in Bethel; his coming out as a homosexual; the role he played in the mechanics of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair; how his parents' motel, the El Monaco, served as offices for the concert's promoters; and how that incredible, historic experience unfolded, from Tiber's perspective.
In early September 2007, the San Francisco bookstore A Different Light called Square One marketing and publicity director Anthony Pomes, inquiring if Tiber could participate in a book signing. Tiber agreed and Pomes set up a series of signings and local media appearances on the West Coast.
Tiber on Oct. 5 found himself waiting in the greenroom of the CBS-affiliate program "Bay Sunday" when Lee, also set to appear, arrived.
Tiber told Lee, who was plugging his latest movie at the time, "Lust, Caution," that his story was "the" story of Woodstock. Less than a year later, a movie deal was signed.
But, there would have been no movie if there was no book. And according to Square One Publishers President Rudy Shur, publication of this memoir was, at first, far from a sure thing.
Shur and Tiber had mutual friends, whom Tiber had told about his story. They suggested he call Shur and pitched his book.
"He told me this story about his experience at Woodstock and his life before Woodstock," Shur explained. "I was amazed. I had never heard that part of the story. To me, it sounded as though it would be a terrific book. I told him that what he needs is a really good publisher that knows what to do with that kind of book. And I wished him luck."
Shur told Tiber to find a publishing house that was larger than Square One.
"We are a small, niche, nonfiction publisher," Shur said. "We are very, very good at what we do. The kind of story he was telling me was really a big time, major ... it would have been unfair to him. If you go to a publisher who is a children's book publisher with a book about warfare, do you think they're going to do a really good job?"
Shur tried to give Tiber advice on how to land a book deal, along with a few leads.
"About three weeks later, he called me," Shur recalled. "And he said, 'Nobody's jumping.' "
Shur felt a kinship with Tiber. Shur grew up in Queens, Tiber grew up in Brooklyn.
Also, "His parents were European Jews who were crazy - and so are mine, to some degree, perhaps a little nuttier, but definitely in the same mold, which was people who would scream and yell - any time, any place," Shur said.
Shur told Tiber he would think about the situation.
"I said to myself, 'Whose company is this?' I said, 'It's mine.' Every once in a while, you have to take a chance. I made a few calls."
The year was 2005 and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock was only four years away.
"The story was so unique and special," he said. "And the fact that he never got to the concert was so unexpected. The fact he actually had to work at the hotel throughout the concert - having worked in my father's bakery, I knew exactly what he had to go through."
"At that point," Shur said, "I said to myself, 'You know what, let's do it.' "
As an adult, Tiber worked as a comedy writer, and that style informed his first draft of "Taking Woodstock."
"While that isn't bad for some books," Shur said, "it didn't quite work relating this story of his life."
Shur called in writer Tom Monte and crafted what ultimately hit bookshelves.
And Shur thought "Taking Woodstock" would make a great movie.
"People dream," Shur said. "I certainly would be one of them."
Then came that morning in the greenroom.
"It's funny how luck has everything to do with everything," Shur said. "You can, in fact, do everything you can to be in the right place at the right time. But there is no telling where the right place at the right time is. All you can do is be out there and hope lightning is going to strike."
Shur said the movie deal was sealed, "in theory," when Lee, Tiber and Lee's collaborator, James Schamus, traveled to the Woodstock concert site in Bethel.
"When I first spoke to Elliot, I was really blown away by his story," Shur said. "But, I thought, thank God I don't have to publish it."