Advice for Entertainment Lawyers from Mark Gill, Former President of Warner Independent Pictures

BY BRENDA VONGOVA

Hollywood is one of the creative capitals of the universe. In Hollywood, a place of enduring mythology and fantasy, anything is possible. However, this means anything is possible-anything at all. Sadly, Hollywood is accompanied by a crass marketplace and often grotesque legal situations. Practicing entertainment law in Hollywood is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor the squeamish. Behind the scenes, show business is inundated with a huge mess of problems, and lawyers in this industry oftentimes find themselves in the most horrifying situations.

On April 13, 2007, the former President of Warner Independent Pictures and Miramax Film, Mark Gill, spoke to Harvard Law School students on the challenges and problems with the entertainment law industry. Unfortunately, according to Gill, entertainment law is costing the show business economy dearly. Lawyers who get paid on an hourly rate are hugely inefficient, and Gill is astonished at how these compensation agreements lead to an extreme slowness in the industry. “This slowness spreads like a fast-moving cancer,” insists Gill. In a business that survives on momentum and speed, this drag is especially detrimental.

What are the solutions towards the problems in the entertainment law industry? According to Gill, the solution is to compensate lawyers with a 5% commission instead of an hourly rate. For example, the entertainment law practice of Attorney Sam Fisher has exploded due to the fact that he turns things around more efficiently.

Gill believes that good lawyers should be compensated very handsomely. Entertainment law is an important area of practice. After all, lawyers hold the word and serve as the protectors for of content.

He further provided the aspiring entertainment lawyers at the Harvard Law School with additional helpful insights on America’s number one export. For example, although interrelated, the film, television, and music industries operate differently. Creative Artists Agency (CAA) controls 80% of the talent.

What is the key to success and satisfaction in the entertainment industry? Gill shared his honest, yet simple, answer: “At the risk of sounding like your mother, BE NICE. It does not matter who you know or what credentials you hold. In the end, you will be hired for a job if you are NICE.” Always remain firm, but pleasant. He further noted that it is much harder to be mean to someone who is nice to you. Although his advice sounds rather simple, one must always remember that is really easy to be nice when the business runs smoothly. It is not always easy to retain one’s decency.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is a very small community, where people can take revenge in bite-size-portions in the long term. Although it takes a long time for poor behavior to catch up in show business, karma exists in the industry. If you are considered “hot,” then you can get away with poor behavior temporarily; however, you will crash immediately as soon as you cool down. Take, for example, the heat and then following cool-down of actor Vil Kilmer due to his reputation as a “difficult” actor. Gill fully understands the nature of the industry. He has worked for bosses who have been rated as the worst bosses in America, such as Bobby and Harvey Weinstein. Today, Gill has a “WILL NOT WORK WITH LIST” that includes actors, lawyers, directors, and producers. A good reputation in the industry will ensure that you do not end up on someone else’s list.

When Gill worked at Miramax, he was considered of the nicest executives at the company. I am certainly not surprised. Mark Gill, the crème-de-la-crème of the Hollywood executives, holds a well-deserved position in the industry. He is a man of humility, integrity, and intelligence. He has been instrumental in changing the quality of Hollywood films. When Gill served as the former President of Warner Independent Pictures, his studio was the first in film history to have an Oscar nomination in each “Best Picture” category: “Good Night, and Good Luck” for Best Picture, “March of the Penguins” for Best Documentary, and “Paradise Now” for Best Foreign Picture. Currently, Gill is CEO of The Film Department, a new $200 million company that will focus on star-driven feature films of quality content in the $10-35 million range.

Mark Gill’s visit to the Harvard Law School was sponsored by the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law (CSEL), the HLS Office of Career Services, and HL Central.

Brenda Vongova is the Film Chair of HLS Arts and Literature Law Society (2007-2008).

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