STEVEN BEER, ESQ. ADVOCATES INNOVATIVE IDEAS AND NEW VOICES!!!!
Mychal: Hello Counselor. I hope you are well. Thank you for coming aboard! Wow, here we are, two lawyers collaborating and as opposed to being adversarial. Who knows, maybe the Writers (WGA) strike will soon end? So, as a shareholder attorney for Greenberg Traurig (“GT”), can you give us a little background? And, your responsibilities as a GT shareholder?
Steven: Hello Mychal! Yes, I was a founding partner of Rudolph & Beer, LLP, a top entertainment and media law firm. In 2003, Larry Rudolph quit practicing law and became Britney Spears’ manager. Then, Greenberg Traurig contacted me to join their international Film and Television practice. Similar to a partner, I attend to the business of current GT clients and develop new business opportunities for our clients — GT fosters an entrepreneurial spirit that speaks to the innovative lawyer and makes GT unique. Of course, I also supervise our junior lawyers and participate in facilitating the smooth operation of our firm.
Mychal: And, can you please tell us a little about Greenberg Traurig?
Steven: Yes, Greenberg Traurig, LLP is an international, full-service law firm with 1,750 attorneys and governmental affairs professionals in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The firm is ranked seventh on The American Lawyer’s Am Law 100 listing of the largest law firms in the U.S., based on number of lawyers. The firm was selected as the 2007 USA Law Firm of the Year by Chambers and Partners.
Mychal: Impressive! When Paul and I started MindFusion Law Corp., we built it for the future. Over the past few years, how has the practice of entertainment law changed?
Steven: The practice of entertainment law has dramatically changed. There is the constant change in technology and the market place especially in the film industry, where there are new film financing structures and new distribution avenues of film product. So, the practice of law has to accommodate the market or your practice will be left behind. Also, clients are much more demanding of counsel. Meaning, they demand market solutions and not just your advice and counseling on the state of the law.
Mychal: Great! We just teamed up and worked together for our client’s (writer/director Dennis Dortch) 2008 Sundance film “A Good Day To Be Black & Sexy.” Can you give us a brief Sundance wrap-regarding film sales? Although Sundance is titled a film market, how was the film buying this year?
Steven: I thought the market place around the Sundance festival was robust and active. More so, than in recent years. The Distributors were more savvy in asking sellers for guidance this year. There were less adversarial positions and there was more collaboration between the buyer and seller. I also saw greater attendance for the initial film screenings which occur in the first few days of the festival.
Mychal: Do you think the WGA strike or the recession played any role on the film market surrounding Sundance?
Steven: I think the strike played a role in the buying of film product. But, also there is the expensive nature of production as a whole. Nowadays, it is becoming more economically efficient to acquire films, especially when films appear in an elite festival as opposed to the expensive and painstaking process of developing, financing and packaging film product.
Mychal: Because there has been so much money (i.e.-private equity, Hedge Funds, etc.) out there to produce films, some industry insiders state that there is too much supply in the market place. Do you agree?
Steven: I understand their position, and let’s also acknowledge that cheaper and more accessible technology provides filmmakers with more opportunity to make films. But, even if there is a glut of content in the marketplace, it’s important to encourage these artists to articulate their thoughts through film. Honestly, there is no telling what we can learn when voices are heard. I welcome the new wave of voices such as Dennis Dortch’s and his film “ A Good Day To Be Black & Sexy” (“GDBS”). It is great to find a film like GDBS. Dennis’ film is like finding an oasis in the desert! I think all these films have some merit which is great!
Mychal: What about the near future? The SAG collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation mid-year, and consumer spending is down. How does this affect film distribution regarding Theatrical, DVD, VOD and Digital distribution?
Steven: I think the market place will continue to be polarized. Independent films will find homes and continue to grow the alternative markets for distribution especially in the areas where the costs of media increases.
Mychal: Have you noticed a change in business in the major markets such as Cannes, AFM, MIPCOM, NATPE, Berlin, etc?
Steven: Yes, I believe the buyers are more selective. Meaning, they are more focused on genre films with recognizable names attached. There are definitely fewer films that are returning the big numbers.
Mychal: Interestingly, that appears to be a common opinion. In a recent interview with Blue Rider’s CFO Jeff Geoffray, he voiced a similar opinion. Have you recently participated in any innovating deals? If so, can you disclose any interesting deal points?
Steven: Yes, I am excited about working with an automobile brand that partially finances film production and film P & A (Prints and Advertisement). In today’s market place, there is a bigger role for brands in the marketing aspects of Indie films, especially Indie films that have non-theatrical tours, informational and experimental events. So, yes, I am involved in a exciting and innovative deal known as the Chrysler Film Project!
Mychal: Sounds great! What is your opinion about monetization in the Digital Market place?
Steven: I think it’s a great incubator for independent films. The Digital Market Place is continuing to develop at a fast pace and will become a productive revenue stream in the near future.
Mychal: What about emerging markets in areas such as China? Currently, there is a lot of foreign interest and investment in China but intellectual property (IP) protection is a major obstacle. Do you see this obstacle being effectively addressed by the studios and independents in the very near future?
Steven: Well, it is not a question of ‘When’, but ‘How long?’ Essentially, developing countries such as China need an infrastructure to be built for IP protection to effectively take place. Of course, this includes an acclimation process where mainstream ideas and voices will not offend the cultures of developing countries.
Mychal: OK…so, then how feasible is it for potential clients to approach you? Do you have to be a proven talent or can you also be a newcomer?
Steven: Well, Dennis is a great example of the type of clients that we are looking for. We are gratified by discovering new and exciting voices, especially the stories that come out of nowhere! I love to facilitate the distribution avenues for new voices to be heard!
Mychal: Can you tell us an anonymous production nightmare involving talent, writer, director or producer?
Steven: Yes, I have my own personal nightmare which has turned into a great lesson for repping actors! As a courtesy to writer/director James Toback (“Bugsy” / “Black and White”), I agreed to appear as a lawyer for the rap group (Wu Tang Clan) in his film “Black and White.” Although I had pledged never to get in front of the camera again, Toback was very convincing. So, I waived my SAG (“Screen Actors Guild”) card and got in front of the camera. However, the post-production supervisor dubbed my voice! A very visible mistake because I sound like a zombie! Just awful! The film airs on cable, so, I cringe every time I hear my voice!
Mychal: Too funny….it appears you and I have had similar experiences! Sounds great! Ok, wrapping up. Last Question. What separates your practice from other entertainment law firms?
Steven: Greenberg Traurig is unique because our entertainment law practice is like a boutique firm but within a large firm practice. We have attorneys experienced in virtually every aspect of entertainment law all under one roof. We have attorneys who handle the full range of legal services including tax, corporate, labor/employment, intellectual property and technology. As a one-stop shop, we have wonderful colleagues and collaborators. Every day is a great adventure!