×

Top Inhouse Attorneys Help Navigate Companies Through Changing Times

These legal eagles help protect corporate nest eggs

Steven Brookman
Co-head, motion picture business affairs, CAA
UC Berkeley, 1984
Matthew Leaf
Co-head, motion picture business affairs, CAA
USC, 1993
With a department of 11 business affairs execs and financial analysts, the CAA team oversaw a pact with Marvel for “Avengers” director Joss Whedon to write and direct the sequel and to develop a new live-action series for Marvel Television; cast deals for the upcoming third installment of the “Hangover” franchise; Francis Lawrence’s deal to direct “The Hunger Games” sequels “Catching Fire” and “Mocking Jay” Parts 1 and 2; and a deal for the upcoming “One Direction 3D” concert film in collaboration with Syco and Modest Management. The team also negotiated deals for international clients such as Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard, Michael Fassbender, Robert Downey Jr., Daniel Craig, Guy Ritchie and Natalie Portman. “It’s been exciting to watch their careers grow to new heights despite the rapidly changing dealmaking environment,” they say.

Brian Burkin
Senior VP, Columbia Pictures business affairs; exec VP, intl. motion picture production, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Tulane, 1989
When his brother was spending time at NYU’s film school, Burkin was in law school, thinking, “What the what? How come he has all the fun?” The deft dealmaker-to-be decided to dip his toes in the entertainment pool and has since built up a resume that includes deals with myriad actors, including James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride. Burkin recently negotiated the deals for the whammo cast of The Monuments Men as well as the pic’s co-financing. He also handled arrangements for the film portion of Will Gluck’s overall Sony deal, in addition to his and thesp Quvenzhane Wallis’ involvement in Annie.

John Fukunaga
Exec VP, legal affairs, Sony Pictures Entertainment
UCLA, 1989
Fukunaga has stuck with Sony for almost two decades, and in his current role oversees a team that handles mergers and acquisitions; strategic relationships and joint ventures; financing; TV net operations and launches; and distribution. Recent deals include the Stateside Starz pay TV deal, a Sky pay TV and VOD deal in Blighty and the international expansion of Crackle. Says Fukunaga: “We try to be very careful in how we draft — to make sure that the rights (our clients) are getting are the rights that we think they’re getting — and to protect our other windows as we go through the lifecycle of a title.”

Paul Iannicelli
Head of motion picture business affairs, distribution and franchise expansion, DreamWorks Animation
UCLA, 2001
Iannicelli led DreamWorks Animation’s negotiation for a five-year agreement on a new theatrical distribution partnership with 20th Century Fox, now global distributor for all DWA theatrical releases. He also negotiated a production deal with Netflix for the subscription service’s first-ever, exclusive animated series. In addition, Iannicelli played an important role in DWA’s 2012 acquisition of Classic Media (now DreamWorks Classics) and its 450-plus titles, including “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Where’s Waldo?,” “Lassie” and “Rocky & Bullwinkle.” “As our industry seeks continued growth while simultaneously addressing declining revenues in certain areas, companies need to be nimble, seeking content with broad appeal and exploring new markets wherever possible,” he says. “We believe that our company is well suited to grow on the strength of family-oriented content with widespread appeal across territories, and the utilization of cutting-edge technologies.”

Rosalind Lawton
Head of business and legal affairs, Relativity Media
Columbia, 1996
Lawton oversaw legal negotiations for Relativity’s 2012 and current slate, including “Mirror Mirror,” starring Julia Roberts, “House at the End of the Street,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Lasse Hallstrom’s “Safe Haven.” She structured a co-production deal with EuropaCorp for Luc Besson’s Mafia actioner Malavita and an untitled Kevin Costner thriller, as well as acquisition deals for Paranoia starring Harrison Ford and the Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon,” which he wrote, directed and stars in. “As it becomes more challenging to get movies made, both sides have to compromise and collaborate in the deal process,” she says.

Richard B. Levy
Partner, general counsel, board member, ICM Partners
NYU, 1992
Since the completion of ICM Partners’ management buyout in March 2012, Levy has been working to broaden the agency’s base with outside-the-box hires — including Cinetic Media’s Bart Walker, the Sundance Institute’s Cullen Conly and Saturday Night Live talent head Ayala Cohen — and strategic partnerships, such as its October 2012 pact with Screenz to develop multi-platform interactive experiences. “The best transactions are the ones that catch people by surprise,” says Levy. He was also instrumental in the recent relaunch of ICM Community Partners Foundation, aiding arts and social services organizations in L.A. and New York.

Jim Meenaghan
Head of business affairs, motion pictures, UTA
Georgetown, 1993
Along with UTA’s Rich Klubeck, Meenaghan negotiated financing for Jon Stewart’s directing debut, “Rosewater.” He helped oversee the bidding war over the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, negotiating U.S. distribution rights with CBS Films. He was also involved in talks for client Rob Thomas and producers to turn the TV series Veronica Mars into a feature film, financed through Kickstarter (with more than $3.7 million raised so far), to be distributed through Warner Bros. “Financing, distribution and talent deal structures have all been impacted by the rise in VOD, shrinking windows and different revenue models,” says Meenaghan.

Rich Shuter
Head of business affairs, television, UTA
Temple U., 1994
Key recent deals include Christopher Guest’s writer/director/showrunner/actor deals for his new television series “Family Tree” — which boasts a new international production model as it’s the first comedy generated by NBC/Comcast’s international group out of the U.K. — which he sold to the BBC first, with a co-production deal with HBO. Shuter also negotiated Julian Fellowes’ deal for his new NBC project, “Gilded Age.” “A big challenge is evaluating and protecting clients’ share of off-network TV revenue in an environment dominated by SVOD distribution,” he says.

Wayne M. Smith
Senior VP, senior litigation and chief patent counsel, Warner Bros. Entertainment
U. of Michigan, 1984
Patrick T. Perkins
VP, senior intellectual property counsel, Warner Bros. Entertainment
Columbia, 1993
Working with Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers, Smith and Perkins in January won the biggest case in the 90-year history of the studio, prevailing over the heirs of the creators of Superman in a ruling that essentially gives Warner Bros. free and clear rights to the iconic superhero. “This ruling validated the agreement a group of us had worked very hard to achieve between 1997 and 2001 and cemented DC Comics’ rights in Superman for generations to come,” Perkins says. “The Ninth Circuit Court ruling. . .vindicated our agreement and rights to Superman,” notes Smith. The significance of the victory for Smith, Perkins and the studio cannot be overstated, and also paves the way for the heirs to be compensated, an issue that had also been tied up in the litigation.

David Sussman
Senior VP, chief legal officer, business and legal affairs, content distribution, NBCUniversal
Columbia, 1980
Since joining last June, Sussman has overseen legal strategy for the distribution of the company’s multi-billion dollar content portfolio of cable networks. He’s primary legal counsel for the digital distribution of NBCUniversal’s cable content across multiple platforms, including on-demand, wireless and broadband. Sussman provided strategic legal counsel for the distribution of London Olympics packages and is developing legal models for content distribution on tablets and smartphones. Has worked over the past year “to deliver content to maximize value for our distribution partners, consumers and NBCUniversal.”

Profiles written by Hillary Atkin, Iain Blair and Todd Longwell 

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Can Get a Fair Trial in Manhattan, Says D.A.

    The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued on Friday that Harvey Weinstein can get a fair trial in Manhattan, and blamed the producer’s defense team for much of the pre-trial publicity in the case. Weinstein’s attorneys have asked an appellate court to transfer the case — which is set to begin on Sept. 9 — to [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

  • Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on

    Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on ‘Brilliant’ Album and Campaign

    Two days after Taylor Swift fired off the latest salvo in her battle with Scooter Braun, the manager congratulated the singer on the campaign around her “brilliant” new album, “Lover,” which arrived last night. The message came after Swift said she will be re-recording songs from her first six albums, which are now owned by [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content