Matthew Thompson Attorney, Stroock & Strook & Lavan
Thompson, 43, sees his role as one of a “consigliore,” providing “real-world” advice to his clients. Always the new kid in town until his early teens (his father was in the military), he learned how to think fast and rapidly adapt to different people and situations.
Thompson has repped: the only unproduced Hunter S. Thompson book in its licensing to Warner Bros. and Initial Entertainment Group for a film to star Johnny Depp; Premiere Radio Networks; and bridge and gap financier Aramid Entertainment.
He understands entertainment’s changing realities. “We are in an economic downturn with pressures on TV, ad sales and the DVD market,” he says. “And we can now rent movies and don’t have to drive to the store. All that stuff is great, but technology is also what lets pirates rip off content in a way they couldn’t before. The great challenge is figuring out how to monetize new technology while at the same time fight pirates.”
Brian Volk-Weiss Head of production/senior VP talent management, New Wave Entertainment
You might think that growing up and listening to your WWII veteran and Holocaust survivor grandfather’s stories is not a traditional way to prepare for a career in production and talent management, but that was just the ticket for Volk-Weiss, 33. Those stories sparked his interest in world history, and he says that learning from historical examples has taught him how to handle difficult situations.
Early on, he was faced with a difficult choice: “I was at a small company and then was offered a job at a bigger company; I chose to stay at the smaller company so I could help do deals, hire people and build. I’ve always been entrepreneurial.”
That decision has more than paid off. Arriving at New Wave in 2003, Volk-Weiss now oversees a department of 50 in a company of over 200. He set up a showrunner unit that manages producers of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The company also manages and produces for Dane Cook, Frank Caliendo and Dan Levy, and incorporates a reality division and an online distribution arm, New Wave Dynamics.
“It’s really the wild, wild West out here — all the rules are being unwritten,” he says.
Tom Ara Attorney, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
Ara, 35, has enjoyed entertainment since he was in college radio. But he also liked the intellectual side of things: “What better mix of the two than entertainment law?”
Ara worked on Goldman Sachs’ structuring of its private equity division’s joint ownership of the “CSI” franchise with CBS, and Osiris Entertainment’s asset purchase of more than 400 film titles from Westlake Entertainment. He also has a client who is financing several “socially conscious type” entertainment projects.
“You can get passionate (as a lawyer) but you have to contain your passion,” Ara says. “Deals don’t get done if lawyers are as passionate as their clients.”
For Ara, one of the entertainment industry’s biggest challenges is the television business model. “I don’t have to watch ‘Lost’ at 8 p.m., I can TiVo it or I can go to a website and watch it when I want.”
Christopher Brearton Partner, O’Melveny & Myers
It could have been chocolate, but it ended up being entertainment. On the first day at his former job as an accountant at KPMG, Brearton, 38, was asked to work on either the Nestle account or the MGM account. “That decision (MGM) led me to work on nothing but media, television, film and music,” he says. “I fell into it.”
Brearton, who also runs the firm’s Los Angeles office, sees his practice as having “two primary prongs.” The first is sports, “which is going to be the most valuable content going forward,” he says. “It’s conducive to a multimedia platform approach — if I’m watching a sports program, I want to (be able to follow) it wherever (I am).
“The other prong is what we call ‘new entrance to Hollywood’ — organizations that are attracted to entertainment and want to make investments, whether they are individuals or businesses. We serve as sort of a Hollywood sherpa and protect them.”
Brearton’s accomplishments include a deal valued around $100 million with the Intl. Olympic Committee and China Central Television that involves the licensing of broadcast and new-media rights for the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2012 London Games.
Tara Kole, Bianca Levin and Cheryl Snow Partners, Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown
They come from different backgrounds, but Kole, Levin and Snow have no problem working together closely.
“If something tricky comes up, I ask for their opinion,” Kole says. “Cheryl does a lot of distribution deals, so she might be the person to go to for that. And Bianca works with reality television.”
Kole, 32, came to Los Angeles from New York and worked at Lionsgate in acquisitions. She then decided on a career change, went to Harvard Law and worked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia before landing at Gang, Tyre. Kole has worked with such clients as helmers Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Jon Avnet; actress Gwyneth Paltrow; and producers Michael DeLuca, Barbara Broccoli & Michael Wilson.
Levin, 32, also feels the three are very close.
“We started about the same time, and we are constantly in touch,” she says. “We collaborate and share information on the deals we’re working on.”
Levin brings her experience as a child actress to the table, adding that it helps her relate to talent. She reps such actors as Rumer Willis, Ashley Green and Edi Gathegi and works with firm clients Harpo Prods., Dwayne Johnson, Samantha Morton and Martin Lawrence.
“We respect each other tremendously,” says Snow, 37.
The trio reflects her family background. Growing up, she was one of three sisters. Snow went straight to law school from college, clerked for a judge and worked at two other law firms before coming to Gang, Tyre.
She represents helmer John Moore, works with firm clients Craig Ferguson, George Miller and Robert Zemeckis, and has repped Steven Spielberg in various DreamWorks deals.
Dealmaker profiles written by Adelia Cellini, Paul Chai, Adam Dawtrey, Jack Egan, Lou Harry, Nick Holdsworth, Cynthia Littleton, Marcy Magiera, Diana Marszalek, Jerry Rice, Michael Shaw, Anna Stewart, Sam Thielman and Will Tizard.