Posts Tagged Hollywood

What’s the Verdict: What does Governor Brown’s new Fair Pay Act mean for Hollywood?

I read an article this morning that posed this very question, and it will be interesting to see how this will play out in Hollywood. An industry already under scrutiny and pressure over pay-disparity of its female actresses as compared to males, due in part to the post-Sony leak of Jennifer Lawrence’s lower profit participation (as compared to co-star Bradley Cooper; 7% vs. 9%, respectively), followed by Patricia Arquette’s Academy Award acceptance speech bringing attention to 35 million people, which then prompted an inundation of media speculation by morning as to why.  Some say this law was a reaction to that pressure.

The law is interesting for 2 reasons: 1) it applies to “similar” jobs, not “same.” 2) it shifts the burden on employers, to justify why there is a disparity, if there is one.  In an industry in which pays are already presumably guided by box office numbers and demand (and projections based on same), it will be interesting to see how things shift, and whether this will in turn change how calculations are done.  In the film world, these calculations determine pre-sales, commitments that determine, in part, how much financing a project will get.  A commitment from a foreign territory (for example) to buy your project at X pre-negotiated amount, before it’s even made, is taken to the bank and used as collateral for a loan.  A risky move already on the part of distributors, sales agents are faced with the difficult and creative job of providing projections based on what talent, director, etc. is attached, and what those names typically bring in at the box office. Oh, how these numbers will change as pays are “equalized.” I have to ask if this will lower pay for everyone.  Doubtful at the A-list level, but what about the low budget and modified low budget world many of my clients (and a significantly growing fraction of the film world) live in?

And while I sympathize, from my perspective, my client is just a cog in the wheel–meaning I can’t take all that into consideration when negotiating the best deal for my client.  And what impact is that having?

The problem here is that there is no guidance yet.  And guidance comes from judges deciding cases and interpreting what the law means in different factual scenarios. My hope is that this law will lead to actual change, as opposed to a slew of litigation….which sadly enough, is the only way we will get some clarity on how the law will be applied.  You can bet on seeing some high profile cases pop up soon.

The other very interesting question that hasn’t been answered yet is what this means for the concept of the “loan-out.” Legally, the actor/producer/director/writer’s loan-out company is contracted by the studio, producer, etc. and it’s actually the loan-out that “hires” the talent, director, writer, etc (going to refer to them all as “talent” from here on out). So technically, the talent etc. is an employee of the loan-out, not the studio or producer.  Hollywood runs on the concept of independent contractors.  And the loan-out –a company set up for the sole purpose of minimizing legal exposure for talent etc.–could end up being a double-edged sword.  Can an actor/producer/writer/director with a loan-out bring a claim against a studio or production company when they are technically employees of their own loan out? The independent contractor vs. employee has already been heavily litigated (there is a slew of case law to turn to, and the IRS even has its own 20 point checklist http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Independent-Contractor-Self-Employed-or-Employee), but we can bet on seeing this issue come up in future cases.

Anyway, just some thought for the curious mind.  I’d love to hear what you all think. Thank you @latimes for getting my wheels turning this morning. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-hollywood-fair-pay-20151008-story.html

(As a note, I haven’t addressed the important role of crew and “other” talent here, no doubt also subject to this disparity and deserving of notice.)

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What’s The Verdict: Were Mike Huckabee’s anti-Hollywood phone calls more like a survey or telemarketing? Will he be held liable?

What’s The Verdict: Were Mike Huckabee’s anti-Hollywood phone calls more like a survey or telemarketing? Will he be held liable?

Just earlier today, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a lawsuit that accuses U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee along with others of violating telemarketing laws.  The lower court rejected the case, but after today’s decision, Huckabee and others will again face a class action lawsuit over millions of prerecorded  phone message delivered on behalf of the film Last Ounce of Courage back in 2012.

So, what actually happened that led to the lawsuit?

Huckabee was tapped by the film’s producers including Veritas Entertainment in an attempt to get people to a see a movie about a son of fallen U.S. soldier.  The film was Last Ounce of Courage.  To be more precise, there were about 34 million calls to residential phone lines and cells phone.  Based on the script, Huckabee was promoting the film by pitching it as ‘anti-Hollywood.’ For example, Huckabee would call residents and ask the following:

“Do you agree that traditional American values are under attack in mainstream media and by our government?” As well as, “Would you, like me, Mike Huckabee, like to see Hollywood respect and promote traditional American values?”

Two St. Louis residents, Ron Golan and Dorit Golan, filed a $5 million class action suit on behalf of themselves as well as other claiming that the calls were a violation of the Telephone Communication Protection Act and Missouri’s Do Not Call Law. Turns out that the Golans weren’t actually in their home to hear the message but were left with voicemails on their answering machine.

In May 2014, a federal judge rejected the lawsuit because the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate an injury sufficient enough to give them standing for a law intended to crack down on robocalls.  However, the 8th Circuit judge Diana Murphy has decided to read the law more broadly than the district judge who rejected.  Judge Murphy says that the lower court judge erred in dismissing the claims.

The defendants are arguing that the calls do not fall under the category of telemarketing or advertising, but were more for information gathering with survey questions.  It is now the role of the appeals court to examine and determine the context of the calls to see if the purpose was to promote goods.  Judge Murphy states in her opinion that the messages appeared to be survey-like by asking if recipients had traditional American values, but clearly acknowledges that the producers were most concerned with getting viewers of the film rather than gathering information.

Overall, Judge Murphy recognizes that the Golans are not subject to a unique defense nor did the suffer a unique injury, but what matters for all class members (including Golans) is that the phone calls placed by Huckabee were initiated for the purposes of promoting Last Ounce of Courage.  Additionally, she does not rule on whether or not Huckabee could be “vicariously liable” and is leaving that to the lower district court.

Judge Murphy has reversed the lower court judge’s opinion, meaning the case has been revived and remanded.  The final decision will be left to a lower district court judge.

The case is Golan et al v. Veritas Entertainment LLC et al, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-2484.

What do you think the lower court judge will do this time around? Stay tuned for more updates on What’s The Verdict!

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What’s The Verdict: Will the success of Entourage mean an end to female driven storylines?

What’s The Verdict: Will the success of Entourage mean an end to female driven storylines?

Entourage may prove to be one of the biggest films of the summer, and even the year. Fandango reported that more than 50% of its online sales today have been for tickets to the anticipated film debut of the popular HBO series. The film, which aired special previews across the country this past Tuesday was already able to hit a $2 million in ticket sales record.

With these starting numbers Entourage is sure to break a couple of records. But what effect will this have on female driven films in the industry? Over the past coupe of years female driven casts have become more and more prominent. Even films that would have traditionally thought of as male driven have begun to feature strong female leads.

Mad Max, a film that was originally male driven featured several female protagonists in the remake released last month. For a while it seemed as though the trend of large ensemble cast type films was to integrate both female and male characters.

Entourage presents audiences with a change to this trend. The film is entirely male driven. While it does feature female characters and cameos the storyline, like the HBO show, will revolve around its male actors.

With the film projected to break a series of records for both summer films, and the industry in general, will its all male cast send a message to content creators? Will the industry revert back to featuring all male casts?

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Whats the Verdict: Will the Feds impose gender quotas in Hollywood?

Whats the Verdict: Will the Feds impose gender quotas in Hollywood?

Last week the ACLU launched a petition via email to people in the entertainment industry asking them to urge the federal government to “look into biased hiring practices” that they claim run rampant in Hollywood.

The petition comes at a time when much of the dialogue around Hollywood revolves around perceived gender imbalance and even gender discrimination. It hopes to send a message to the government saying, “gender bias against women directors in film and television is real and has gone on for far too long,” and that an, “investigation and oversight from civil rights enforcement agencies to foster reform of the industry’s biased hiring practices would be a welcome step.”

Is the ACLU overstepping its bounds? Some would say yes. Looking at the business of entertainment from a legal perspective there could be many possible explanations for this gender imbalance. It is doubtful that Hollywood is systematically geared against individuals of the female sex. Just look at the all films and TV shows that feature strong women this year. (Orange is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, Pitch Perfect, Cake, Still Alice, and the list goes on and on)

If Hollywood were the misogynist wonderland that the ACLU makes it out to be how would any of those projects gotten off the ground and into our nation’s theaters and onto our TV screens?

Furthermore, does the ACLU not have anything better to do? With all of the perceived injustices in our country why is it that they have Hollywood on their radar? Could it be that in their attempt to stay relevant in our 24 hour news cycle they have decided to attack Hollywood?

As for getting the government involved all I have to say is come on, really? Does the federal government have nothing better to do than look into hiring patterns in one of the highest paid industries. Are they going to carry away studio executives and content creators in shackles? Will they impose gender distribution quotas? Does anyone really want to work in an industry where their position in a company is entirely dependent on a preset government statistic? I sure don’t.

What do you think the verdict will be? Will Hollywood be left alone, or will it have to enact gender quotas?

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Collective Bargaining Hollywood Style: Entourage stars Get $2mil each negotiating as one

Collective Bargaining Hollywood Style: Entourage stars Get $2mil each negotiating as one

After years of speculation and anticipation the HBO hit series Entourage will finally make it to the silver screen. Its long journey to the world’s movie theaters, as with most Hollywood big budget productions, was not without controversy and delay. In a recent article in the Hollywood Reporter, Kevin Dillon, who co-stars in the film said that discussion about a potential film had begun as early as 2008, the same year that HBO’s Sex and the City made its film debut.  Much of the delay was due to writer and director, Doug Ellin’s inability to come up with a script and storyline for the feature. However, once the script was completed the film would be further delayed by marathon salary negotiations.

One of the project’s main stars, Jeremy Piven, who was the only established celebrity prior to the original show’s conception, received a salary that left the other actors feeling like they deserved more than originally offered. After negotiations were finally completed Piven walked away with a cool $5 million, and the film’s other stars, Adrian Gernier, Jerry Ferrera, and Kevin Dillon, each signed deals worth $2 million.

In his interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Grenier discusses how he, Ferrera, and Dillon negotiated as a single unit to get their final deal, “We recognized that we had more leverage when we were aligned.” The utilization of collective bargaining between the project’s stars and the studio is very interesting and could start a new trend in contract negotiations. Rather than negotiate separate deals and contracts it seems as though Gerneir, Ferrera, and Dillon opted to negotiate as a single unit. This allowed them to secure the same uniform deal of $2 million each, rather than have their agents and attorney’s negotiate several different deals for each star. This technique can prove to be a rather effective one for ensemble cast projects, where all the stars can work together to secure a favorable payout.

Stay tuned for more on What’s The Verdict!

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What happened between major talent agencies CAA and UTA?

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What happened between major talent agencies CAA and UTA?

Some of Hollywood’s notorious talent agents including Jason Heyman, Martin Lesak, Gregory McKnight, Greg Cavic Nuciforo dropped big news yesterday. The agents have decided to just up and leave CAA to join its rival agency UTA. Client loyalty is expected; Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, and Kayne West have already followed their agents and made the move to UTA. But what were their reasons for leaving? Some claim the agents were unhappy with salaries, while others claim they wanted bigger titles. How can these agents just get up and leave thinking there would not repercussions?  Based on CAA’s reaction, it appears that these agents may have jumped the gun before their contracts were officially up.

CAA will be filing suit against its former colleagues for breach of contract and UTA for alleged ‘poaching’ practices. Did the agents illegally breach their contracts? What role did UTA play in this? Was it premeditated? CAA will likely present the following arguments: (1) agents breach of contract, (2) UTA’s interference with contracts constitute unfair competition, which will hold UTA liable, and (3) Possible claim for civil conspiracy if UTA conspired with the agents. The workplace culture at CAA has clearly been disrupted by the events and it’s almost certainly the case that CAA is already working on strategies to legally ‘steal’ top agents and talent in retaliation. Stay tuned for updates on the CAA vs. UTA rivalry…

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Hollywood is buzzing over The Daily Show’s new host Trevor Noah!

Hollywood is buzzing over The Daily Show’s new host Trevor Noah!

It was officially announced that Trevor Noah will be replacing legendary Jon Stewart as the new host for The Daily Show. Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who has previously appeared on The Daily Show as a contributor. While the South African comedian isn’t well known in America, he is widely recognized in his own country.  This is exciting news for the show’s fans who have long awaited the official appointment of a new host.  In addition, Comedy Central who in the past has been criticized for its homogeneity is being applauded for bringing in some diversity. Their goal was to bring something new and different to the table and that is exactly what they did. The news has been trending all over social media. Noah’s premiere date has not yet been announced but it’s clear that everyone will be tuning in that night. I know I will!

Early this morning Noah tweeted: “No-one can replace Jon Stewart. But together with the amazing team at The Daily Show, we will continue to make the best damn news show!”

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