Heavy hitters have jitters over tech, finance

See Hollywood law impact list

As the ways and means in which entertainment is funded, delivered and consumed rapidly evolve, so does the normally staid biz of Hollywood lawyering.

Indeed, the rapid emergence of digital distribution, the dispersion of film and TV auds and the rise of corporate-controlled media congloms have all changed dealmaking.

“The problems from the studios’ point of view are escalating costs, diminishing theatrical auds and a driving need to be cost conscious in order to gain the approval of corporate parents,” says Eric Weissmann, who has spent decades in the industry both as a studio lawyer and outside counsel.

On the talent side, it remains business as usual for attorneys who rep the top of the market, but Tom Cruise’s ouster from Par and Fox’s scuttling of “Used Guys” with Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller sent a message that even stars need to constantly prove their value.

Attorney Sam Fischer observes that while the number of films made actually went up in 2006 — a dynamic that can be attributed to upticks in indie film production and the number of people looking to put their money into movies — it doesn’t feel like it because the number of studio films has declined dramatically. “It’s either tentpoles or genre films, and anyone making films in the middle is really having a hard time,” he says.

The rapid evolution of media technology, meanwhile, is forcing litigators to figure out how to combat digital piracy while pressing transactional attorneys to engineer ways to exploit new platforms.

“Technology has created uncertainty in the financial model for films,” says Richard Levy, general counsel at ICM. “There’s tension about how to structure deals and how to attribute revenue. For the guilds, the issue of how to value and protect new-media revenue has made for particularly tense prenegotiations.”

And certainly, the industry as a whole has been schizophrenic about how to handle digital piracy. For example, in February, Viacom agreed to license television shows and movies to Joost, an online video distribution channel created by the notorious founders of illegal file-sharing sites Kazaa and Skype. Earlier this month, however, Viacom launched a massive copyright suit against Google’s YouTube for unauthorized use of its material.

Russell Frackman, who represented the Recording Industry Assn. of America in the Napster case and also handles matters for the Motion Pictures Assn. of America, sees an evolution in the kind of copyright issues the industry is facing.

As the cases have moved away from “bad actors to good actors who do bad things,” the they become much more difficult to prosecute, he says. “Everyone loves Google,” acknowledges Frackman, who also has a suit against the search giant over its use of thumbnail photos.

While new media may cause headaches, it has opened up new vistas of distribution, especially for younger and experimental talent. “There’s much more access for artists,” says Barnes Morris’ Kevin Morris. “We don’t have to rely on the studios.”

Meanwhile, the ever-evolving film finance realm has seen major changes over the last few years, with increasing numbers of pictures tapping into a huge amount of private equity that has entered the market.

“The trend is certainly toward more sophisticated financing with multiple parties such as banks, equity participants, buyers of state tax credits, hedge funds and mezzanine financiers,” says Steve Monas of Business Affairs, whose clients include River Road, Hyde Park and Mandate. “It’s getting to be like Thanksgiving, where you have to keep making room for one more relative at the table.”

Despite the perennial hand-wringing over when the hedge fund and mezzanine money will evaporate, attorney Skip Brittenham takes the long view. As he recently told a panel: “I’ve been in business for 30 years, and there’s always some new tax deals, some foreign guys, hedge funds and somebody who has some financial agenda of their own. I don’t think the money is going away.”

HOLLYWOOD LAW IMPACT LIST

From L.A. to New York, Variety profiles some of the biz’s top talent titans, money shifters, indie movers and Perry Mason types.

The Barnes Morris Partners
(Michael Barnes, Kevin Morris, Debbie Klein, Douglas Mark, Kevin Yorn, Stephen Barnes and Jared Levine)

Firm: Barnes, Morris, Klein, Mark, Yorn, Barnes & Levine

Jake Bloom
Firm: Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal & LaViolette

Sue Bodine
Firm: Epstein Levinsohn Bodine & Weinstein

John Burke and Steve Fayne
Firm: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

The Del Shaw Moonves Trio
(Ernie Del, Jon Moonves and Nina Shaw)

Firm: Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano

Scott Edelman
Firm: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher

Patti Felker and Peter Nelson
Firm: Nelson Felker Toczek Davis

Bert Fields
Firm: Greenberg Glusker

Russell J. Frackman
Firm: Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

Michael Frankfurt and Richard Heller
Firm: Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Patricia Glaser
Firm: Christensen Glaser Fink Jacobs Weil & Shapiro

The Hansen Jacobson Quartet
(
Tom Hansen, Craig Jacobson, Jeanne Newman and Steve Warren)

Firm: Hansen Jacobson Teller Hoberman Newman Warren & Richman

Barry Hirsch
Firm: Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof & Fishman

Andrew Hurwitz
Firm: Schreck Rose Dapello Adams & Hurwitz

Jim Jackoway and Barry Tyerman
Firm: Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum & Morris

Martin Katz
Firm: Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton

Linda Lichter
Firm: Lichter Grossman Nichols & Adler

Loeb & Loeb’s Craig Emanuel and Mickey Mayerson
Firm: Loeb & Loeb

Schuyler Moore
Firm: Stroock & Stroock & Lavan

The O’Melveny & Myers Trio
(Joe Calabrese,
Stephen Scharf and Robert Schwartz)

Firm: O’Melveny & Myers

Bruce Ramer
Firm: Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown

John Schulman
Firm: Exec VP and general counsel, Warner Bros.

Martin D. Singer
Firm: Lavely & Singer

The Sloane Offer Partners
Firm: Sloane Offer Weber & Dern

John Sloss
Firm: Cinetic Media

Stanton (Larry) Stein
Firm: Dreier Stein & Kahan

The Ziffren Brittenham Five
(Ken Ziffren, Harry (Skip) Brittenham, Sam Fischer, Clifford Gilbert-Lurie, Melanie Cook)

Firm: Ziffren Brittenham Branca Fischer Gilbert-Lurie Stiffelman Cook Johnson Lande & Wolf

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