Wayne Levin
© CLAUDIA LUCIA

Variety’s 2013 legal leadership honoree has guided the mini-major’s growth since 2000

One of the highlights of Wayne Levin’s career came two years ago when, after a protracted battle, Carl Icahn gave up his bid to take control of Lionsgate.

Levin, Lionsgate’s general counsel and chief strategic officer, didn’t gloat.

“When the fight was over and the pieces lay where they lay, we were able to reach out to Carl and find a way for him to exit the company that made sense for him and made sense for us,” Levin says. “I think that no matter how hard a fight you’re having with someone, the lesson is, if you are respectful throughout the process, if you at least look at each other in the eye and keep communication lines open, there’s resolution after the fight is done.”

Variety’s 2013 Legal Leadership honoree played a major role in the protracted battle — just as he’s been involved in the many twists and turns of the company’s corporate history. He joined Lionsgate in 2000, when the company acquired Trimark, his employer at the time. Since then he’s helped oversee Lionsgate’s growth, marked by acquisitions of indies such as Artisan Entertainment (2003), Redbus Holdings (2005), Debmar-Mercury (2006), Mandate Pictures (2007) and Summit Entertainment (2012).

It’s not hard to see the company making further major acquisitions, but all Levin says is that they look at “every opportunity. As general counsel I have to tell you that anything we’re looking at I cannot discuss.”

More recently, Levin was one of the architects behind Lionsgate’s five-year, $800 million revolving credit facility, an intricate deal that he says demonstrated the banking community’s faith in Lionsgate’s management and direction. He credits company toppers Jon Feltheimer and Michael Burns for growing Lionsgate while maintaining its entrepreneurial spirit, and also pulling off a longterm plan of rolling up independents and making it all work as a public company. Levin calls it an “incredible journey.”

Levin didn’t set out to be in entertainment law, or even an attorney. He was born in South Africa, but in 1978, when he was 15, his father, a doctor, moved the family to Southern California. Levin went to University High in West Los Angeles, then to UCLA, where he majored in psychobiology. By his senior year, he was tired of studying science; even with no “burning desire” to be a lawyer, he went to Southwestern U School of Law, where he became intrigued by copyright law. He interned for Vestron Pictures, which went belly-up by the time he graduated, and he got his first job at criminal law firm Koletsky & Mancini. He tried his first case before a jury three weeks after being admitted to the bar.

Six months later, he set up his own shingle, developing a criminal defense practice that, over six years, involved 13 jury trials. Asked about the stats, he says, slyly, “My record was very, very good.”

By 1996, he was looking for a career change. “My wife preferred strongly that I didn’t pursue a career in criminal law,” he explains. “She was tired of calls from various penitentiaries at two in the morning.” An ad in the trades led him to Trimark, which started him on the road to entertainment law — a legal sector where “everybody knows everybody,” says Levin. It’s akin to the world of prosecutors, district attorneys and city attorneys in that cases often come down to a negotiation, in one case a contract, in the other a plea bargain. “I think negotiating with prosecutors is exactly the skill you need to be an entertainment lawyer. Frank, open negotiations lead to the result that you want for your client.”

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