Top Talent Lawyer Michael Gendler Helps Clients Navigate Through Showbiz Disruption

“The Times They Are A-Changin’” sang Bob Dylan in 1964, referring to the social upheavals of the day.

Now, 55 years later, the same refrain can be applied to the business of Hollywood, which is working its way through a period of deep disruption.

Indeed, the rigid and omnipresent deal template for creative talent imposed for years by the film and TV industries is being swept away before our eyes, says attorney Michael Gendler, partner, along with Kevin Kelly, at the Gendler & Kelly transactional law firm in Beverly Hills.

The cause: video streamers barging into Hollywood with big content ambitions and barrels of money that are upending the one-size-fits-all structure.

Gendler will participate in a keynote conversation with Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller at the publication’s invitation-only Power of Law Breakfast, presented by City National Bank, April 10 at the Beverly Wilshire. The session focuses on the shifting world of Hollywood dealmaking.

Hollywood is “no longer an oligopoly with five companies that control all manufacturing and distribution,” Gendler observes. “That’s over for the moment.”

Gendler predicts streamers and traditional TV buyers, bending to intense competitive pressure, will be forced to bend deal templates over time to snag top talent. “It’s a more-complicated and fast-changing world, which is fantastic for dealmakers,” he says.

Besides dollar figures, obvious dealmaking pivot points can be bonus mechanisms, reserving ancillary rights, talent adding multi-hyphenate gigs including as producers and exercising creative control.

On the vanguard of Hollywood’s talent reshuffle, Gendler negotiated the move of writer-producer Brad Falchuk and his Teley-Vision banner to Netflix in a four-year deal, exiting 20th Century Fox Television.

The lawyer’s clients read like a Hollywood who’s who. In acting: Meryl Streep, Julianna Margulies, Steve Martin, Chris Pine, John C. Reilly. For producing-writing-directing, Neill Blomkamp, David Chase, David E. Kelley, Courtney Kemp, Alex Kurtzman, Rob Marshall/John DeLuca, Shonda Rhimes (landing her huge Netflix deal in 2017), Ed Solomon and Kurt Sutter. Add to the list book authors Harlan Coben (“Run Away”), Jenny Han (“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”), Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (“Friday Black”) and Daniel Silva (“The Other Woman”).

Gendler, who lives in Pacific Palisades, is married and the father of two daughters — one soon entering college and the other graduating. For recreation, he plays tennis and has assembled a 1,100-bottle wine collection. “That’s small in this town,” he observes wryly.

Another passion is education — evidenced by his volunteering for numerous school advisory boards — because of his conviction that today’s students will have to be incredibly agile amid unprecedented disruption in the business world. He says many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t even exist today. “I think it’s a chance to work locally for global change,” he says.

Gendler is a trustee and former president of the Marlborough School — the all-girl private Los Angeles school founded in 1889 where his daughters were enrolled. The school’s website notes “he has served on every subcommittee, including development, academic advisory, campaign, executive, and audit, just to name a few.”

The attorney also sat on the advisory board for seven years at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Sciences, and has been active over a decade at the UCLA Lab School.

Gendler adds that his day job is also fulfilling as he helps talent navigate Hollywood’s ever-changing business landscape. “They are thoughtful and smart people who could have done anything,” he says of his clients. “Instead, they followed their passion and took the career risk of going into the arts.”

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