Top legal eagles in biz are feted at THR Power Lawyers Breakfast

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Talent might drive Hollywood, but it's the lawyers that keep the industry on its toes.

And Friday, The Hollywood Reporter honored 100 of the town's top attorneys at the second annual Power Lawyers Breakfast.

The event coincided with The Reporter's publication of the Power Lawyers 100 list, honoring the most influential outside counsel in entertainment during the past year. The breakfast at the Peninsula Hotel gathered honorees as well as studio, network and talent agency lawyers.

The event featured a Q&A with MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan and the presentation of the inaugural Raising the Bar Studio Lawyer Award to Disney's top legal eagle, Bernardine Brandis.

Brandis was introduced by Disney chair Dick Cook, who said the attorney was "the best darn Mickey Mouse lawyer in town" and "the real deal."

"She not only raises the bar in the industry, she's made it impossible for others to get over it," he said.

Brandis spoke of her role in an ever-changing industry and how technology alters the landscape and creates new legal challenges. "It may be time to invent new wheels," she said.

Sloan walked the packed room through the crises he faced when he took the reins at MGM almost three years ago. These included recasting James Bond with a blond Daniel Craig, convincing the world that a 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone could reprise his role as Rocky Balboa, and burnishing the United Artists label by bringing aboard Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner to run it.

Despite not practicing law for 20 years, Sloan said he has made use of his legal skills every day on the job: They came in handy, for example, in trying to get the MGM-controlled property "The Hobbit" set up as a potential movie franchise. "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson was locked in a battle with New Line over residuals from that franchise, which put any chance of "The Hobbit" getting made in jeopardy. Sloan had to engage in shuttle diplomacy to get the two sides to focus on a resolution. And in the end, the 5-year-old dispute melted away over curry and cheesecake at Sloan's home with Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh.

Similarly, Sloan tipped his hat to the lawyers who recently helped his company and partners Paramount and Lionsgate figure out the windowing complexities in setting up their new pay cable operation.

In his remarks, Sloan also described MGM as a studio that in his estimation had failed to come up with more imaginative business models as did the other Hollywood heavyweights. Although he suggested the other major studios — by investing in cable systems, theme parks and TV networks — are now worth anywhere between $60 billion and $100 billion each, former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian last offloaded the studio for a piddling $5 billion. Sloan contended that with a library, a brand name, a production team in place and digital opportunities on the horizon, that value proposition should change.

"More will happen in the next five years, and I don't intend to miss it. It's an exciting time to be dealmakers using new models to lead us through this new millennium," he told the gathering.

Sloan gave kudos to the lawyers in the room, telling them they were "essential to closing the deals." (partialdiff)
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