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Three years ago, The Hollywood Reporter launched Legal Legends, a Power Lawyers special feature dedicated to honoring entertainment industry attorneys whose career achievements are extraordinary. Each year, a select group of attorneys is inducted, and those who are chosen retain the title for life. Meet this year’s five new honorees.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be at the forefront of whatever the next new thing was,” Black tells THR, whether that meant hammering out the earliest pay TV output deals, video sell-through agreements and pay-per-view deals or the initial convergence of legacy Hollywood and upstart Silicon Valley. His most recent major transactions include forging deals for toymaker Spin Master’s Paw Patrol movie for Paramount and Paramount+ and for Pokémon with Netflix and Universal Music Group. Black also guides top-drawer clients like Halo video game developer Bungie and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his Gates Ventures on their own content development.
As Black puts it, only when he understands what his client’s needs and goals are — whether they’re a C-suite executive, a content producing company or an intellectual property owner — can he effectively convey that across the bargaining table. “When the negotiations begin, I need to be able to communicate that in a way that’s compelling and cogent and clear,” he says. Of course, getting parties to negotiate with clearly defined goals for a possible deal is forever complicated by new technology — whether the Internet, smartphones or, lately, streaming platforms — redrawing the blurred lines of Hollywood megadeals. That’s been especially true during the last two years of the pandemic. Black recalls starting negotiations with one industry backdrop in sight and concluding a few months later with a whole new set of market parameters and expectations. “The business had changed as we negotiated the deal,” he says. “And we needed to address a couple areas because the previous reality no longer existed.”
All the more reason for Black to never be stale or rest on his laurels. “I remember early on in my career meeting attorneys who were iconic, and deservedly so, and when we got in the same room they were kind of frozen in time and would regale me about deals they had done,” Black says. “To me, it was a bit of a lesson to say I always want to be always fresh and always learning, and that has served me well.”
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
Gibson Dunn didn’t handle many entertainment law cases back when Edelman was promoted to partner at the firm in 1991. His vision for the practice was initially fairly modest when he set to build it out. The plan was to establish a reputation as a credible firm for profit-participation litigation, to get the spare case here and there, and eventually expand to doing some transactional work. His first big break was when he sued music producer Eli Samaha on behalf of Intertainment over fake movie budgets his client paid a percentage of. The case took a turn when a formerly friendly key witness turned on Edelman while on the stand during the 2004 jury trial. The witness, former general counsel at the company, unexpectedly “testified for the other side so persuasively that the jury wouldn’t even look me in the eye.” Edelman was forced to abandon his plans for direct examination and cross-examine him on the fly, which succeeded when he showed the jury that the witness had lied to him about what he was going to say. Edelman ended up securing a $120 million verdict in the case that put his name on the map.
Eighteen years later, Edelman co-chairs Gibson Dunn’s thriving media, entertainment and technology practice group and has represented some of the top companies in Hollywood including Sony Television, ViacomCBS and Warner Bros. In 2020, he achieved one of the biggest victories of his career for AMC in a profit-participation case over The Walking Dead franchise against comics creator Robert Kirkman and others, knocking out hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged liability. (The fight was later reanimated with new legal theories and is ongoing.) He says some of the proudest moments of his career were when he was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and received the American Jewish Committee’s Learned Hand Award.
A top name at one of the industry’s most iconic firms, Gilbert-Lurie has long represented Dick Wolf, mastermind of the Law & Order universe (without fail, the attorney even accompanies Wolf to the upfronts in New York City every year). In the latter half of the 1980s, Gilbert-Lurie was asked to lead a meeting on Wolf’s behalf with Universal, where the prolific creator was striking an overall deal. “At the end of the meeting, Wolf called Skip Brittenham, and said I was his guy,’” recalls Gilbert-Lurie, adding that Wolf was impressed by his non-combative yet determined style.
Over the years, he’s made groundbreaking deals for some of the biggest names in front of and behind the camera. Sandra Bullock, who has also relied on Gilbert-Lurie for years, did particularly well by the creative terms he structured for The Blindside and Gravity. And in 2016 he helped arrange a market-leading, first-look deal for Tina Fey at NBCUniversal. “At this point, it’s fun to represent people who have so much leverage in the market that you can make interesting deals,” says Gilbert-Lurie. His client list also includes Claire Danes, Michael J. Fox, Hugh Laurie, Mindy Kaling, Mandy Moore, Drew Carey, Sarah Silverman, Sir Patrick Stewart and Josh Brolin, as well as Jerry Bruckheimer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment.
Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein
UCLA School of Law
When a young model and actress named Cameron Diaz walked through Morris’ door in the mid-’90s, it was a defining moment for both the attorney and the soon-to-be superstar. Mask was just about to come out and Diaz took the bold step of hiring female representation in a town dominated by men. “I went on this amazing voyage with her,” says Morris. “One of the most emblematic things about my career has been making groundbreaking deals that paved the way for women to have more parity with their male co-stars.” Diaz would become one of the first actresses to break the $20 million barrier and her deal for Bad Teacher, which included a low upfront fee in exchange for groundbreaking equity participation, is famous for being one of the most lucrative talent deals in Hollywood history (no studio did that again).
Other top female clients include Goldie Hawn, Sophia Bush, Chandra Wilson, January Jones, Alexis Bledel, Jordana Brewster, Megan Mullally, Chloe Moretz and actress-entrepreneurs including Kate Hudson and Eva Longoria. Morris doesn’t ban men, of course, and represents actors Peter Krause, Chris O’Donnell and Nick Offerman, among others. She also counsels writers Scott Z. Burns, Eric Heisserer, Lucy Alibar, Adam Brooks and Daniel Wilson, and represents the Herbert Family, which controls the Dune franchise. She also prides herself on being a mentor inside the firm, helping to increase the number of female employees to nearly 40 percent over the past seven years.
Hansen Jacobson Teller Hoberman Newman Warren Richman Rush Kaller Gellman Meigs & Fox
USC Gould School of Law
The shrewd negotiator helped shatter the glass ceiling for female talent attorneys by amassing a stable of prominent showrunners and nonscripted producers in addition to talent. An example of her prowess: She recently introduced two of her clients, reality magnates John de Mol and Stephen Lambert, who are teaming up on the U.S. version of de Mol’s Million Dollar Island from Studio Lambert for NBC. And clients Hart Hanson and Lee Daniels are writing a new drama project for FX. “I’ve got a sense of what is important to those I represent, and this mixing and matching is just one example.”
Newman became interested in international television and met de Mol, the mastermind behind Big Brother and The Voice. He retained her, and she has been on the cutting edge of nonscripted dealmaking in Hollywood ever since. (She remembers being literally locked in a room with former CBS chief Nancy Tellem during the bidding war for Big Brother.) On the scripted side, she began representing Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino back when they were young writers on Roseanne before going on to create Gilmore Girls, Bunheads and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Ann Donahue, who helped shape the CSI franchise, was also among Newman’s first signings, while other longtime clients include Daniels, Matthew Weiner, Drew Goddard and Tracee Ellis Ross. Among her accomplishments, Newman is most proud of the fact that nearly 40 percent of her firm’s lawyers are female.
Legends Honor Roll
This year’s inductees join these attorneys as Legal Legends: Jake Bloom, John Branca, Skip Brittenham, Harold Brown, John Burke, Joseph Calabrese, Melanie Cook, Jay Cooper, Patti Felker, Bert Fields, Sam Fischer, John Frankenheimer, Patricia Glaser, Allen Grubman, Tom Hansen, Barry Hirsch, Jim Jackoway, Craig Jacobson, Neville Johnson, Dale Kinsella, Ken Kleinberg, Linda Lichter, Mickey Mayerson, Kenny Meiselas, Sky Moore, Bob Myman, Don Passman, Lee Phillips, Bruce Ramer, Marty Singer, Larry Stein, Alan Wertheimer, Ken Ziffren and the late Howard Weitzman.
Profiles written by Winston Cho, Pamela McClintock and Etan Vlessing.
A version of this story first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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