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In the middle of closing a complicated film output deal in 2007, Lesley Freeman found herself traversing the streets of midtown Manhattan, where she worked at the time, in a pedicab during rush hour on a Friday afternoon to pick up her 5-year-old daughter from day care. “There were no cabs,” says Freeman with a laugh. She was brokering an agreement with Fox for her then-employer, HBO. When she got back to the office, colleagues and her boss took turns babysitting, ordering food delivery, and transforming a couch into a makeshift bed for her daughter. The deal was signed at 9 o’clock the next morning, and Freeman gained important insight into a key factor for career success. She says, “People were supportive of my whole life and helping me succeed in what I was trying to do, both in the workplace and as a mom.”
The native of Chicago suburb Glen Ellyn attended UCLA law school, graduating in 1995 with no major interest in entertainment (“I knew I didn’t want to go to court”) and a diminished tolerance for cold climates. “I made it through one winter,” says Freeman of returning to Chicago after law school. Working in corporate transactional law there, helping companies secure credit, would prove valuable experience for her move to Hollywood, though her clients couldn’t have been more different. “One that was memorable was a meatpacking plant,” she recalls. “It was the Midwest.”
She moved back to snow-free L.A. and into film financing at O’Melveny & Myers, where she worked with major studios including Disney and HBO, the latter of which would become her employer for more than a decade.
In 2016 she was tapped as the general counsel for one of the town’s oldest studios, MGM, responsible for a library that includes Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, James Bond and Rocky. Freeman now oversees a team of 85 during a major transition, after the studio exited bankruptcy and acquired Mark Burnett’s UAMG, beginning its foray into television. “It’s one thing when you are an outside counsel and you do the deal, but once you are in-house at a company you have to manage the aftermath,” says Freeman, who shortly after joining MGM shepherded the company’s acquisition of Epix, buying out Paramount and Lionsgate, and later helped relaunch storied studio label Orion.
Even as the pandemic shuttered production and exhibition, Freeman and her team remained busy assisting recently installed film head Michael De Luca with a splashy slate that includes a Lady Gaga-starring House of Gucci and a Ryan Gosling space epic. She also helped guide 007 through COVID-19, adjusting the release strategy for Bond feature No Time to Die. She says, “The first priority was to do what was in the best interests of the film and the franchise.” And, as Hollywood eases out of the throes of the pandemic, things are not likely to slow down — especially with a much-reported sale to Amazon on the horizon, which the lawyer couldn’t discuss.
So, while Freeman didn’t set out to have a career in the entertainment industry, she has certainly found her place within it. “You don’t always have to take a direct path to reach your goal,” she says. “You just have to keep pushing forward.”
This story first appeared in the May 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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