Entertainment attorneys impact list
DAN H. BLACK
When Black entered private practice in 1990, screenwriters were still using typewriters. Today he can look back at a career that has embraced all the technical upheaval that has transformed the entertainment industry. At one point “I had the opportunity to be of service to Microsoft,” he understates. “I needed to immerse myself in the client’s world.”
Black repped the software giant in its Hollywood deals. AEG Live retained him to help create a digital strategy. His negotiations on behalf of Belgium’s XDC helped set 3D film standards.
His knowledge of digital sets Black apart from many entertainment lawyers. “It almost became part of my DNA to try to stay current,” he says.
Black thinks it’s essential for his clients on the digital side to have someone conversant in their vocabulary to help them navigate Hollywood. “They need someone who understands both worlds,” he stresses. “And these worlds, increasingly, are beginning to intersect.”
KEY DEALS: Repped XDC deploying 3D movie projectors throughout Europe.
TOOL OF CHOICE: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: African Kids in Need
ROLE MODEL: Philip Black, father
O’Melveny & Myers
The economic climate has been rough on a lot of people, but Calabrese says: “Knock wood, our group has held up particularly well. Our practice has always been mostly on the company side, and that’s been a good thing the past 18 months. I’ve read lots of articles about the talent side being hit pretty hard.”
Considered one of the most creative entertainment deal lawyers in Hollywood, Calabrese is known for his skill in crafting innovative, complex financial agreements.
“We’ve been lucky to have a lot of rather large licensing transactions, lots of sports work,” he adds. “Financings are still getting done. We’ve managed to maintain a pretty decent market share.”
Calabrese follows a few simple rules. “Make everybody in the deal wish that you were their lawyer. The best thing a lawyer can be is an honest broker. Don’t ever lie. And don’t ever threaten when you can’t follow through.”
KEY DEALS: Repped Intl. Olympic Committee broadcast rights for 2010 through 2016; S.F. Giants in ownership deal with Comcast; MGM in joint venture with Viacom, Lionsgate and Paramount; and Digital Cinema Implementation Partners in $1 billion finding pact with five majors.
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry. “I’m not young enough to Twitter.”
TOP CAUSE: Constitutional Rights Foundation
ROLE MODEL: Jerard Calabrese, father
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
Conner facilitates deals at the nexus of film and TV finance, production and distribution. Joining Manatt in March, he brought along a core list of big-footprint clients he had repped at Dickstein Shapiro, including Goldman Sachs, CBS and Disney.
The credit crunch has made getting backing for television and film productions more challenging, he acknowledges. “While lawyers can’t change the fundamentals in this rough patch,” he says, “we can help come up with creative solutions to make this business work.”
KEY DEALS: Structured purchase by Goldman’s private equity unit of 50% of the rights to “CSI” franchise, which made Goldman joint owner with CBS. Helped Goldman sell a 7,500-hour film and TV library, acquired as part of the “CSI” rights buy, to distributor Echo Bridge. Negotiated a production financing deal funded by hedge fund Eton Park. Working with CBS on finalizing two production deals designed to give “U.S. television viewers outstanding shows at a price that makes sense to everyone.”
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: UCLA and Harvard Law
ROLE MODEL: Mike Conner, father, who proved “nice guys can finish first.”
MARK DEVEREUX and LIBBY SAVILL
London law firm Olswang worked on every British film to win an Oscar at the previous Academy Awards. In fact, from “Gandhi” to “Mamma Mia!,” Olswang has been at the heart of the most significant movies to emerge from Blighty in the past 28 years.
Senior partner Mark Devereux and Libby Savill, who heads the film team, are the company’s two key dealmakers in entertainment. London-bred Devereux was one of three original founders in 1981. Aussie Savill joined in 1989.
Devereux is a smooth operator and strategic thinker who moves comfortably in the corridors of power, counseling moguls and impresarios such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Elisabeth Murdoch. He’s also deputy chairman of the U.K. Film Council and the British Screen Advisory Council.
The smart and pragmatic Savill is equally at ease helping indie producers construct complex financing structures and advising Hollywood studios in their U.K. and European production deals.
KEY DEALS: Devereux helped structure the stage-to-screen transfer of “Mamma Mia!” and advised Murdoch on the rapid expansion of her Shine Group, including its acquisition of Reveille and its film production joint venture with Regency. Savill pulled together the financing for “An Education” and “The King’s Speech,” repped the Weinstein Co. on the Euro coin structures for “Nine” and “Inglourious Basterds,” worked for Spyglass on “Leap Year,” Sony on “Cemetery Junction” and GK Films on “London Boulevard.”
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry for both
TOP CAUSES: Devereux orchestrates annual pick of charities by firm’s 650 staffers. Savill supports Oxfam.
ROLE MODELS: Devereux admires early Olswang client Jeremy Thomas. Savill says, “I’ve learned from others, but done it my way.”
Felker Toczek Gellman Suddleson
When starting the firm in early 2008, Felker put into place a model of joint representation and shared wealth. “When we represent somebody, you don’t get a lawyer, you get a law firm,” she says. “Everybody’s willing to help on any client … that’s different from how a lot of firms structure their deals.”
Felker has a track record of expanding clients’ roles — assistants becoming writers, actors taking on concurrent series and writers becoming directors. She notes Greg Berlanti’s co-writing effort on “Green Lantern” (along with fellow client Michael Green) as a springboard to his directing a Katherine Heigl project, “Life as We Know It.” “Most of my writers eventually direct features they write,” she notes. “That’s the kind of deal I really love doing.”
Known for her persistence, she “will never give up on a deal. You develop that stomach, you understand what’s at stake, who’s got the leverage … and you have to be willing to keep pushing.”
KEY DEALS: Upcoming Mandate Pictures project with Zac Efron, and fellow CAA client Leslie Dixon as writer. “The way this deal is structured, we basically became joint venturers with Mandate.”
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry and Netbooks. “I don’t use Facebook.”
TOP CAUSE: Project Chicken Soup
ROLE MODEL: Katharine Hepburn
Loeb & Loeb
While he does deals in TV, film and the Internet, 70% of Frankenheimer’s work is in music. In today’s environment, he notes, the basics are evolving dramatically, including access to capital markets. “You have to find innovative ways to access capital, structure deals and find management operations that fit a new entity, which may be the product of a merger.”
Frankenheimer values homework, patience and discretion. “Sometimes you lay the seeds of a discussion a year or even two years in advance of actually starting to engage in meaningful conversation,” he says. “And we have concluded deals with nary a hint of rumor in the press, or even within the industry, that the transaction was taking place.”
KEY DEALS: ARC Music’s sale to Fuji Entertainment America — “Unique, because it’s an iconic catalog of very special copyrights and assets”; Imagem Music Group’s acquisition of Rodgers & Hammerstein org, repping more than 12,000 songs; Front Li
ne Management Group in merger with Ticketmaster; Univision’s $153 million sale of music recording/publishing business to Universal Music Group.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: City of Hope
ROLE MODEL: B.J. Frankenheimer, father; former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden
Gendler & Kelly
Gendler views his responsibility as twofold: to protect his clients’ interests against the steady encroachments in profit-participation formulas and other compensation issues by the town’s major employers, and to help forge new ways for creative talent to pursue their passions, whether that means helping to arrange nontraditional financing and distribution for productions or striking when the iron is hottest to secure the most favorable deal terms.
“The main job today is giving your clients the greatest opportunities to express themselves as they choose on the creative side,” Gendler says. “As tough as the marketplace is, it is possible to craft opportunities that allow for creative freedom coupled with financial reward.”
Gendler is known for his long relationships with clients such as Meryl Streep, Nora Ephron, David Chase, David E. Kelley, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Neal Baer and Shawn Ryan. “Some of it is luck, and some of it is sticking with people you believe in,” Gendler says.
KEY DEALS: David Chase’s feature pact with Par; numerous transactions for Kurtzman and Orci, Ryan and Neill Blomkamp, among others.
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry and multiple computer monitors in his office
TOP CAUSE: UCLA Lab School
ROLE MODELS: The “very smart group” of lawyers at Irell & Manella who taught him the biz in the 1980s
Liner Grode Stein
Regenstreif & Taylor
Known as a lawyer with a knack for setting up blockbuster financing deals even in tough economic times, Grode is passionate about his work. “People will tell you I tend to drink my clients’ Kool-Aid,” he says. “I think and stress about their problems. I have the ability to put myself deeply in their shoes.”
KEY DEALS: Summit Entertainment financing agreement for “Twilight: New Moon” and “Twilight: Eclipse”; $200 million film production and P&A financing for Lionsgate; Union Bank’s $80 million sale/leaseback financing for “Nine”; distribution deal for up to four films a year with Participant Media through 2013.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry. “My wife has banned it from the night table.”
TOP CAUSES: Arthritis Foundation; Multiple Sclerosis Society
ROLE MODELS: Susan Grode, mother, co-chair of Katten Muchin Rosenman’s national entertainment and media practice; partner Larry Stein
O’Melveny & Myers
Scharf has spent his entire 34-year career as a member of his firm’s entertainment and media practice — a tenure that has taught him to “try to find a way to get something agreed to, rather than just say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ It’s really about finding a way that works for everyone.”
Known for his creative approach to making deals, Scharf was behind the sale of the San Diego Padres and the formation of production/finance outfit Vendome Pictures. Yet he’s humble about his achievements: “Without the team we have here, I would have gotten nothing done,” he says.
Nonetheless, he finds unique satisfaction in having such big-name deals come to fruition at a time of economic uncertainty. “It was quite extraordinary to get innovative deals done,” he adds.
KEY DEALS: Repped San Diego Padres in sale to group led by Jeff Moorad, former co-owner of Arizona Diamondbacks; Philippe Rousselet and Fabrice Gianfermi in setting up Vendome Pictures; and Shine, in acquisition of Reveille.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: Stanford U. Law School
ROLE MODELS: “The lawyers who went ahead of me in this firm.”
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
Repping the Endeavor Agency in its successful merger with William Morris is the most recent highlight of Schumer’s career. And, to hear him talk about, it was also a lot of fun. The parties involved in the deal “had a blast,” he says. “It wasn’t easy to get done, but it was done in a way that both sides felt they succeeded.”
For Schumer, there’s no pat formula for getting big deals done in Hollywood. The key to success is to approach the process with an outside-the-box bent and forge deals acceptable to both sides of the table.
KEY DEALS: Repped Endeavor in merger with William Morris, creating the new WME, which combines rosters of the two shops and stands as a rival to CAA.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: Ken’s Kids
ROLE MODEL: Abraham Lincoln
NINA L. SHAW
Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano
The detail-oriented Shaw is intimately involved in all facets of her transactions. For example, when she set up thesp Jamie Foxx and helmer F. Gary Gray with the revenge thriller “Law Abiding Citizen,” she focused on getting the best deal possible in a tough economic environment.
“The margins have been cut razor-thin,” she says, “but at the end of the day you still have what you started with — people’s underlying passion is what motivates them.”
KEY DEALS: “Law Abiding Citizen” for clients Foxx and Gray; “CSI” for Laurence Fishburne.
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry, Facebook
TOP CAUSE: Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs
ROLE MODEL: Partner Ernie Del, who “puts deals ahead of ego”
Toberoff & Associates, P.C.
“I believe I’m on the side of the good guys, or people who have never gotten what was coming to them,” says intellectual property litigator Toberoff, who has carved out his own niche by exploiting “termination rights,” a little-noticed part of the Copyright Act that gives original content creators or their heirs the ability to claw back control after a long span of time.
A scourge to the studios, Toberoff has become a legal superhero to such clients as the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, the pair who created the Superman character in 1938 and sold the rights for $130. The upshot following a cascade of favorable court decisions is that the overall copyright on the Man of Steel will revert to the two estates in 2013 — including control over new projects.
His latest legal blast is on behalf of the heirs of Jack Kirby, who played a major role in the creation of Marvel comicbook icons like X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Toberoff in September sent out 45 termination of copyright notices to Disney (which is buying Marvel), Sony, Fox and Universal. He has lately turned his gaze toward music. “I’m looking to get involved in music publishing and copyrights in a big way,” says the lawyer. For starters, he’s repping the kids of Ray Charles.
KEY DEALS: Repped creators or heirs for Superman, Lassie, the Dukes of Hazzard
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: Wants to start a foundation for artist rights
ROLE MODEL: Max Toberoff, father, a New York trial lawyer
Felker Toczek Gellman Suddleson
With an eclectic clientele that includes Seth Rogen, Daniel Radcliffe and Noah Baumbach, Toczek skews to the independent and to young, up-and-coming actors. The split of the final two Potter films set a precedent, while the deal for Baumbach’s upcoming “Greenberg” was on a far more modest scale.
The challenge, says Toczek, is “looking at different models in how you’re going to approach a deal. If the money isn’t available, then look at how you can be creative on the backend and find new and different ways for clients to taste success in a project.”
Other Toczek clients: Bill Hader, Idris Elba, Judy Greer, Alice Eve, Aaron Johnson, Shailene Woodley and Jason Dolley. When the clients “don’t have the leverage of a long and established career as an actor, you h
ave to push really hard to get the deals where you want them,” he says. “The next deal doesn’t impact just the next deal. It impacts the next two or three.”
KEY DEALS: Repped Radcliffe in the split of Potter films; Rogen and partner Evan Goldberg’s “Green Hornet” and two Mandate Pictures projects: “I’m With Cancer” and “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse,” starring Rogen and Jay Baruchel.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: Maimonides Academy
ROLE MODEL: Mother: “More than anything, what matters in life is that you be a mensch.”
Morris Yorn Barnes & Levine
A priority for Yorn these days is learning to exploit emerging digital distribution platforms on behalf of big-name talent. A recent example: “Plan 26: Dark Origins,” a mixed-media thriller by client Anthony Zuiker, creator of the “CSI” franchise. Promoted as the first “digi-novel” by publisher Dutton, between chapters it refers readers to Web- and iPhone-borne video vignettes.
He handles transactions for Scarlett Johansson and Ellen DeGeneres, and repped the latter in her signing with Fox to become a judge on ratings behemoth “American Idol.” Part of the package: an Idol-related tie-in with her syndicated talkshow, distributed by Warner Bros. “The goal is to make both deals work together,” says Yorn.
Yorn repped Johansson to be the new face for Dolce & Gabbana, replacing Penelope Cruz, and as endorser for clothing line Mango. Johansson, by the way, has a new hit album, “Break Up,” her second with rocker Pete Yorn — the attorney’s younger brother. DeGeneres recently tweeted praise for the work.
KEY DEALS: Negotiations with Dutton and Apple for Zuiker’s “digi-novel,” first of a planned trilogy combining text with video interludes.
TECH TOOLS: Blackberry, iPhone, several iPods and a Kindle
TOP CAUSE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
ROLE MODEL: Herman Goldblatt, grandfather, 100 and still going strong
Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf
Ziffren is known as a thinker who is often called on by industry execs and fellow lawyers for his insights at a time when dealmaking for creative talent in the entertainment biz is evermore complicated.
But as someone who helped rewrite the rules of backend profit participation for producers, writers and directors more than 20 years ago, Ziffren is well-equipped to navigate today’s choppy waters as new modes of distribution upend traditional film and TV business models. Just ask Jay Leno, for whom Ziffren negotiated the deal with NBC for his nightly 10 o’clock show.
“All of the challenging aspects are also opportunities,” Ziffren says. “We’re in a transitional phase, and what’s happening is that the windowing of the product is changing with the effects of new technology. The challenge and the opportunity is how to understand the fundamentals and the economics of this change.”
KEY DEALS: Setting up “The Jay Leno Show” at NBC; advising DGA and AFTRA on their master film and TV contracts with the majors.
TECH TOOL: Blackberry
TOP CAUSE: UCLA Law School, where he teaches and chairs its $100 million fund-raising campaign
ROLE MODELS: Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren, for whom Ziffren clerked, and Dick Zimbert, a close friend and longtime Paramount biz affairs chief, who died in October.