An entertainment attorney is a lawyer who specializes in creating contracts and negotiating deals for creative professionals.
The question is, do you need an entertainment attorney?
Too often I see screenwriters without an entertainment attorney end up in a bad deal.
So if you’re wondering whether you need an entertainment attorney…
… the answer is that you should probably consider it.
Entertainment Attorney – Overview
Hiring an entertainment attorney can be expensive, so you want to make sure it’s the right decision for you.
In this post I interviewed six different entertainment attorneys to help you figure out:
- When you need an entertainment attorney
- How to work with an entertainment attorney
- What you should expect in terms of fees
Entertainment Attorney – Typical Situations
Entertainment attorneys can help you:
- Create contracts between writing partners
- Handle copyright and protection issues
- Acquire rights to literary properties
- Negotiate deals such as: Options, Literary Purchase Agreements, Collaboration Agreements, Script Submissions Releases, Nondisclosure Agreements, Work for Hire Agreements, Step Deals, and Flat Deal Agreements.
Also, some entertainment attorneys can assist with packaging and pitching a screenwriter’s work.
Q & A With Six Entertainment Attorneys
Below are the questions I asked six entertainment attorneys to help you get a sense for how this aspect of the business works, when you should consider hiring an entertainment attorney, and how to work with them once they’re on your team.
Can you explain the world of entertainment attorneys?
Dinah Perez: I would say find a lawyer that you resonate with, who understands what you need, and is able to deliver what you need. Attorneys have expertise in specific areas. For example, some only practice music law while others do film and television. As such, it’s important to ask the entertainment attorney if they practice in the area of law where you need representation.
Lisa Callif: There are three basic types of entertainment attorneys (at least with regard to film/television): Talent lawyers – who represent writers, directors, actors, etc.; Production lawyers (like me) – who typically represent producers during all phases of production (development, finance, production and distribution); and In-House lawyers – who work at HBO, Sony, Lionsgate, etc., and of course litigators.
Chris Doyle: Typically, agents “shop” the client to make the sale of the pre-existing work or find the talent a writing position. Then the entertainment attorney will “paper” the deal, making sure that the written agreement reflects the points agreed on, and drafting/negotiating detailed deal points not addressed in the agent’s negotiation.
Tifanie Jodeh: There are the high ranking, well known, patriarchs/matriarchs that have the top talent in the business (producers/directors/actors) and mostly get business because of the caliber of their clientele. Then you have the associates who work for them. Then you have the in-house entertainment attorneys at the production companies and studios. Then, the independent entertainment attorney or boutique firms (where I fall).
Rob Rader: There are some very prestigious “boutique” firms and other very good firms. There are tons of solo practitioners, some of whom have very good credentials, some are at earlier stages of their careers. There are a wide range of options available for writers, directors, and producers.
Hakim Mulraine: The world of an entertainment attorney varies based on the attorney’s area of expertise. There are some who are litigators; some are strictly transactional (these lawyers draft, negotiate, and consult on agreements.) There are also attorneys who function as a litigator and/or transactional attorney and are also dealmakers. Dealmaker attorneys use their legal knowledge, experience, and strong professional circle, to draft, negotiate or consult on a client’s deal, as well as assist that client with finding other elements to complete the deal, e.g. talent and financing.
What makes an attorney different from an agent? Couldn’t a writer just have an attorney and not an agent?
Chris Doyle: If a writer can find his/her own jobs and sell his/her own projects, then arguably no agent is necessary. But the connections of an agent can be very valuable.
Dinah Perez: I believe that everyone needs both. The agent to find the work and the entertainment attorney to help negotiate the deal and review the agreements.
Rob Rader: The difference is mostly $100,000 of law school. Agents are valuable because they (are supposed to) sell you and your work. An attorney may show your material, make introductions, help your career in “non-legal” ways, but the primary duty is to close your deals. So, it’s a more technical and limited function in many ways.
Hakim Mulraine: Someone selling their first script could be successful using an attorney or an agent. It’s not your representative’s title that will get your script sold, it’s his or her knowledge, experience and relationships within the industry that will increase a writer’s probability of success.
Lisa Callif: Agents and lawyers work hand in hand to get their clients the best deal. The traditional divide is that an agent procures work for his/her clients and with that comes negotiating the basic deal terms of an agreement, including the fee. The lawyer would then negotiate the rest of the agreement, including the long form. That said, there are entertainment attorneys out there who solicit scripts and help with a client’s career, and there are agents who get more involved with the nuts and bolts of the agreement. A writer could certainly just have one or the other, it would really depend whether that person was serving your needs or not.
What’s the biggest misconception about entertainment attorneys?
Chris Doyle: Probably everything you have heard is true.
Rob Rader: That they’re all as good looking and charming as I am! Most good entertainment attorneys are quite ethical, which is sad because that sounds so surprising.
Tifanie Jodeh: That an entertainment attorney is just a general concept. Instead, you need to get one with the specialization that you need. If you need to hire talent and put a production together? Get a production attorney. Need to sue someone who is doing business in entertainment? You need an entertainment litigator. Need to file a trademark for your production company? Get an intellectual property attorney.
Dinah Perez: That we are here to pitch projects and get them set up. We are not here to create careers – that’s up to the individual and the agent.
Hakim Mulraine: The biggest misconception about entertainment attorneys is that any attorney who deals with contracts (ex. real estate, tax, business attorney, etc.), can negotiate an entertainment contract. An attorney may be skilled at drafting and negotiating contracts and/or have a strong command of contract law, but that doesn’t mean he/she knows or understands the customs of the entertainment industry.
When should writers get an attorney?
Lisa Callif: As soon as they start writing with a partner or have an opportunity to sell/option their material.
Chris Doyle: Whenever they are asked to sign something or they are entering into a business relationship with another person or entity.
Hakim Mulraine: Writers should always have an attorney who they can contact for information on the best way to protect their work, and to review their management agreements, agency agreements, and release forms.
Rob Rader: Generally, when you get an agreement or need an agreement. Some writers do use attorneys to send out their material. I have done it in the past, but discourage it. No one really expects attorneys to vet material so our imprimatur is not hugely meaningful.
Tifanie Jodeh: I always tell my clients, if you ever get the “bug” in your stomach telling you that you don’t know something, something isn’t right, or that you need a deal in writing, get an attorney!
Dinah Perez: The minute the writer is working on something that is not original, is based on a life story, or if the writer is embarking on a writing partnership.
When do writers NOT need an attorney?
Dinah Perez: If they are writing an original screenplay from their own imagination without a writing partner.
Rob Rader: Never happens.
Hakim Mulraine: A writer should always have an attorney either on retainer or in his or her professional circle.
What’s your role in the process?
Tifanie Jodeh: To be the person on the team with all the other moving parts of a writer’s team. I advise on deal terms, good deals vs. bad deals, what terms to accept, and when to pass.
Rob Rader: I enjoy the collaboration with managers and agents because the good ones really do help strategize how to get the best deal for the client. I tend to be very much focused on closing and figuring out how to send in the agent to get a concession, then try to get another concession with help from the manager, etc.
Dinah Perez: To facilitate, counsel, and negotiate/revise the deals.
Lisa Callif: Because I am most often on the production side, I get involved early, often when my client wants to option a piece of work. I help negotiate the option agreement and then hopefully, work on the project until it’s done.
Chris Doyle: Writer clients typically come to me when they have someone interested in acquiring rights in their project, and they want me to review the paper prepared by the other side.
Hakim Mulraine: I’m a transactional attorney and a dealmaker. I draft, negotiate and consult on agreements for my clients. I’m also able to assist with finding talent and financing as well as packaging and pitching projects to entertainment and new media entities. Also, I’m able to assist writers with business and intellectual property issues or concerns.
How are you paid?
Hakim Mulraine: I am usually retained or I will do a partial retainer and contingency agreement. I rarely represent someone on contingency alone.
Rob Rader: Check, credit card, occasionally cash. I tend to work hourly but as a convenience often use a flat rate for various projects.
Lisa Callif: Our office works primarily on an hourly basis. We charge a retainer, which varies depending on the type of work we are doing and then bill hourly against that amount. We work on a flat fee when we are doing production legal services on a film, which is based on the budget of the film.
Dinah Perez: I get paid by the hour unless I’m negotiating a deal that is going to result in a payment large enough to cover my fees. In that case, I’m willing to do a percentage-based representation.
Chris Doyle: For talent clients, typically hourly or, alternatively, 5% of the deal (if represented by an agent) or 10% if no agent. For small budget matters, don’t expect an entertainment attorney to represent you on a percentage basis where your fee is next to nothing, so they get 5-10% of next to nothing — these are usually charged on an hourly basis.
Tifanie Jodeh: It varies anywhere from per hour, monthly retainer to contingency.
If a writer has TV and film projects, or they write a play, does that change how they work with you?
Chris Doyle: Film, TV and stage are all different worlds. I would think a playwright would need a special kind of entertainment attorney. I have done book deals, television, and film agreements for my writer clients.
Rob Rader: Playwrights have a different market and different legal issues. Very few attorneys or agents are familiar with the Dramatists Guild.
Lisa Callif: No. For the handful of writers we represent, we can represent them across the board.
Tifanie Jodeh: No, it depends on what the writer wants to do with the work and who wants to buy it/produce it.
Dinah Perez: No.
Hakim Mulraine: Possibly. I don’t work with theatre projects unless the writer is trying to convert it into a television or film project.
Most attorney websites list a wide variety of specialties and it’s hard to know who might be a good fit. How can clients find out who would be a good fit?
Rob Rader: I believe in meeting the attorney. If it doesn’t work out, switch.
Lisa Callif: The best way is to talk to people who are represented by that lawyer. You can also get a feel for what their specialty is by looking at their credits on IMDB and figuring out how they are involved with projects.
Chris Doyle: Find a writer whose career you want to emulate, and find out who represents him or her.
Hakim Mulraine: A writer should contact a number of entertainment attorneys and discuss what his or her goals are for the project. If the attorney is interested and experienced in what the writer is working on, I suggest the writer consider retaining that attorney or seeking a consultation.
Tifanie Jodeh: Read the entertainment attorney’s bio. Make sure they give you a good background of experience. Next, check IMDB and see what projects the attorney has worked on and if it matches the service you need.
Dinah Perez: A phone call. I do a free phone consultation for both the client’s and my benefit. I want to know if I can help the client and want to make sure our personalities are a good fit. I represent clients long term, so it’s important to me that we like each other and can have a productive working relationship.
Entertainment Attorney Bios
Lisa Callif, named by Variety as one of The Best and The Brightest (2011), started out at New York University with a BS in Communication and worked in music before moving to the Southwestern University School of Law. In 2010, Lisa co-wrote The ABA’s Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking with her partner Michael C. Donaldson. In 2014, Copyright & Clearance: Everything You Need To Know For Film and Television was published. She has worked on numerous prized films and documentaries, such as Invisible War, Inside Job, Insidious, How to Die In Oregon, I’m Still Here, and Teenage Paparazzo. Lisa continues her career as an adjunct professor at Southwestern and a frequent speaker on various panels sponsored by Film Independent, American Pavilion, and UCLA.
Chris Doyle is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, where he also achieved the Am Jur award in Torts. Prior to starting his own company, Doyle & McKean, Chris served as Senior Counsel, Legal Affairs for the Walt Disney Company, serving both ABC and the ABC Family Channel. During this time he developed a niche in reality programming, overseeing such programs as Extreme Makeover, Wife Swap, and My Life is a Sitcom. Previously, Chris worked at the Fox Family Channel, Screen Actors Guild and the Airlines Reporting Corporation. He also has a BA degree from the College of William and Mary in English literature.
Tifanie Jodeh had her undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado, receiving her J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. She has worked at various prestigious firms ever since the beginning, starting with Business and Corporate Affairs, The Football Network and MindFusion Law. Tifanie is a voting member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, frequent lecturer at several universities and film festivals, past columnist for InsideFilm, contributing writer for Hollywood and Vine magazine and on the board of directors for the Romance in a Can Film Festival.
Hakim Mulraine received his B.A. in Political Science from Manhattanville College, after which he worked for the City of New York as a Confidential Investigator investigating claims of police misconduct. He received his J.D from the University at Buffalo, School of Law (UB Law). While in Buffalo, Hakim was the owner and operator of, “Raine Sports & Entertainment Management,” where he worked with musicians and semi-professional athletes. As a member of the Copyright & Publishing Clinic, Hakim assisted authors with their publishing agreements as well as performed research for copyright infringement litigation. Hakim holds a Certificate in Entertainment & Media Management from New York University.
Dinah Perez attended Loyola Law School and practices entertainment law since 1996. She wrote the Hollywood Producer’s Directory that will be published this Fall and wrote a chapter on the “Legal 411 For Screenwriters” in the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory. She is a prolific writer of legal articles that appeared in magazines or on sites such as Story Board Magazine, Release Print, Surfview.com, Legalserviceindia.com, Mecfilms.com and Findlaw.com, being quoted by Entertainment Weekly, Wired Magazine and Wired.com. She is a member of Film Independent, the Copyright Conference, and the National Association of Record Industry Professionals. She is also fully bi-lingual in Spanish and gets numerous clients from Spain, South America, and Mexico.
Rob Rader graduated magna cum laude with highest honors from Harvard College, attended Harvard Law School, and is an adjunct Professor of Law at Pepperdine Law School. He frequently speaks to the media and at industry events, including SAG, LA Business Today, Bloomberg TV, and Producers Guild of America. Rader is experienced in digital media with a focus on content, ad sales, mobile, apps and internet sectors, and has worked with major digital companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, YouTube, Machinima, Maker Studios, BuzzMedia, AOL, Collective Digital Network, the Orchard (Sony), Boing Boing, Federated Media, Electronic Arts and Activision. His large company domestic media work experience includes advising or negotiating with major companies, including MGM, CBS, NBC/Universal, Fox, Miramax/Disney, Goldman Sachs, Marvel Studios, DIRECTV, PBS, National Geographic, Univision and Danjaq (James Bond). Rader also has international experience with leading entertainment companies such as Yian Studios (China Film Group), Dalian Wanda, Toho-Towa (Japan), CJ Entertainment (Korea), AB Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden), HIT Entertainment, Mumbai Mantra (India) and the World Bank (for entertainment matters).