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Melanie Cook: Top talent behind tricky deals

Women's Impact Report: Reps and Legal

Melanie Cook knows how to multitask. She negotiated Debbie Liebling’s deal to exit Fox and become Universal’s production prexy while driving to client Nancy Meyers’ Gotham premiere of “It’s Complicated.”

“I knew that I was going to see everyone there because it was a Universal film,” recalls Cook, the first and only woman partner at entertainment powerhouse Ziffren Brittenham. “They would all be asking, ‘Is the deal done?’ ”

The UCLA law grad already boasts one of Hollywood’s more enviable rosters, which includes such high earners as Tim Burton, Keanu Reeves, Scott Rudin, Ed Harris, Sam Mendes, Holly Hunter, Julie Taymor, Stephen Daldry, Neil Gaiman and Barry Sonnenfeld.

It’s no surprise that Cook’s fingerprints can be found on some of the most splashy successes of 2010. The mother of two negotiated Rudin’s tricky deal with Sony for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” franchise that sees the uber-producer sharing in a profits pool with director David Fincher and writer Steve Zaillian.

“All of these deals that were once dollar-one pacts are turning into pool deals based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ model,” notes Cook, who describes her style of negotiating as informed, aggressive and playful. “Studios want to remove the risk. But I’m OK with that. I’m willing to bet on my client, and I’m willing to say yes to deferred cash because I know we’re going to have a hit.”

Gambling paid off for Cook and longtime client Burton in 2010. Thanks to the runaway success of “Alice in Wonderland,” Burton took home more money than on any previous film. And “Alice” is the gift that keeps on giving, with Cook playing a key role in Burton and Richard Zanuck’s deals for the stage adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Whether inking deals for Daldry to helm the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock starrer “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” or Sonnenfeld to return for a third installment of “Men in Black,” Cook says she benefited most from her 30-plus years in showbiz: “The studios are not going to bullshit me and say, ‘We’re not going to do that because we’ve never done that before.’ I’m already privy to so much of what they have done before.”