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The Hollywood Reporter in 2019 launched Legal Legends, a Power Lawyers special feature that honors entertainment attorneys whose career achievements and contributions to the industry hare extraordinary. Each year, a new group of attorneys is inducted, and those who are chosen retain the title for life. Meet the new honorees.
Gendler & Kelly
UCLA School of Law
Early on, Gendler stopped having to worry about chasing business when hired by the likes of David E. Kelley, David Chase and Meryl Streep, who came to him via another client at the time, the Carrie Fisher (the first of many movies deals he struck for the Oscar-winning actress was 1994’s The River Wild). A seminal career moment came in 1998 when negotiating an overall deal between Kelley and 20th Century Fox TV that resulted in a prolific partnership (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal) and is remembered as one of the most lucrative showrunner deals in Hollywood history (at least at the time). The pact took months to hammer out, since decades-old syndication rules (known as fin-syn) had ceased. Gendler was intent on Kelley having a piece of license fees and succeeded in his efforts. When learning of Gendler’s maneuvering, more creative types sought him out. That included Chase, who came to Gendler after the first season of his groundbreaking HBO show The Sopranos. Both deals weren’t just about money; they also gave the two showrunners unique creative control.
Gendler’s shrewd maneuvering wasn’t lost on creative powerhouse Shonda Rhimes, whom he’s helped build a sprawling empire — including negotiating a five-year extension of her lucrative Netflix deal in 2021. Steve Martin and Rob Marshall are longtime clients — he also long repped the late Nora Ephron — as is Chris Pine, who is currently on the big screen in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. All of the relationships are centered on mutual trust and respect. “They don’t want their lawyer screaming or yelling or lying,” says Gendler. “And I don’t have to deal with people who hate my clients. No one calls me in the middle of the night and says, ‘Why isn’t your client showing up for work?’”
Gendler isn’t intimidated by the evolving industry, perhaps because of those early deals. “You could make unusual deals then because syndication rules were shifting,” he says. “Now is an enjoyable time to be on my side of the dealmaking because there’s so much in flux.”
Ivy Kagan Bierman
Loeb & Loeb
Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
With a longtime passion for both the entertainment business and labor work, Kagan Bierman has carved out a rare niche with her practice. The chair of Loeb & Loeb’s entertainment labor group has become one of the industry’s few legal experts representing major entertainment companies in dealings with guilds and unions, as well as advising them on improving their corporate cultures. She’s been tapped by some of Hollywood’s biggest names — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Discovery, Lionsgate, Starz, Skydance and AMC Networks, to name a few — and played a role in significant industry events. Kagan Bierman famously brokered talent agency Verve’s precedent-setting deal with the Writers Guild during the union’s battle against packaging practices in 2019 and was a go-to adviser on shutting down and restarting productions during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One approach that sets Kagan Bierman apart is what she calls her “eternal” optimism, saying she’s “not afraid to say to my client that I think I can achieve something.” That outlook paid off in 2013, when Kagan Bierman worked with then-client Joan Rivers to resolve a dispute with the WGA, which charged the union member with violating its rules by performing work on a struck show (her E! series Fashion Police). Kagan Bierman was convinced that she could settle the matter without putting the 80-year-old Rivers through a WGA disciplinary hearing. Despite some “naysayers,” she says, “I did achieve what I thought I could achieve.”
Kagan Bierman also underscores the importance of listening in labor negotiations, recalling her talks on behalf of Verve with the WGA in 2019. After she spent a few hours asking the union many questions about the material in the guild’s franchise agreement proposal, she recalls that WGA West executive director David Young leaned forward and told her “in a voice that sounded a little bit harsh” that she was the only person who had spent two hours asking questions. “I thought, oh, he’s upset,” she recalls. “And then he said, ‘Thank you.’” (A WGA source confirms the interaction and general substance of the conversation, but cannot recall the exact words.) The deal got done that day. She adds, “Sometimes just being heard and having someone address your concerns, even if they say no, is really effective.”
Currently, the labor expert, who is well-known for providing anti-sexual harassment and discrimination trainings, is focused on countering bullying in the business. “I’m passionate about this,” she says. “This is something I’m really going to be focusing on a lot for the remainder of my career.”
O’Melveny & Myers
Southwestern Law School
From representing the father of slain Ronald Goldman in a successful civil suit against O.J. Simpson to defending Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling from fraud and insider trading charges, Petrocelli has seen it all. “I’ve litigated just about every kind of significant area: Trademarks, securities, mass tort, criminal, insurance, construction, patent, antitrust and pretty much any kind of entertainment case,” he says, noting that divorce work may be the one exception. “I’ve always eschewed the ‘Hollywood lawyer’ moniker because I never wanted to be branded as such. I always wanted to be considered a lawyer and litigator of all types.”
The biggest win of Petrocelli’s career may have been when he successfully defended the $85 billion AT&T, Time Warner merger in the government’s first challenge to a vertical merger in decades. Despite having sparse antitrust experience, he convinced the federal judge overseeing the case that competition in the media industry would not be substantially lessened if the deal was greenlit. Responding to arguments that Turner would be able to make exorbitant fee demands on cable and satellite distributors for “must-have” content, Petrocelli countered that the claim is just a theory that ignores “meaningful real-world evidence” and stressed that consumers would actually save money.
His attention then turned to litigation over content delivery. He represented Disney in a suit from Scarlett Johansson in the first case over movies releasing on steamers the same day as in theaters. The lawyer challenged arguments that her contract was breached when the film simultaneously debuted on Disney+ because the actress’ bonuses were tied to Black Widow’s box office performance. (The suit settled.) “Everyone sees the benefit of having the ability to serve consumers across a broader spectrum” he says. “And so it’s now just a question of how to monetize the arrangements and how to allocate the money.”
Petrocelli has also advised studios in reworking distribution models while avoiding legal trouble, secured Disney’s rights to various Marvel characters against writers’ estates, and defended Google in connection with the government’s claims that it has a monopoly in advertising technology. He says the last item on his legal bucket list is to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
April 12, 11:30 am. Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Petrocelli represented Johansson. He represented Disney.
Schreck Rose Dapello Adams Berlin & Dunham
Columbia Law School
When Schreck and several of his colleagues decided to break away from an established New York City law firm and launch their own entertainment boutique 3,000 miles away from Hollywood, everyone thought he was bonkers. But Schreck’s instincts were right, and the outfit has been a success story since opening its doors in January 1999. Clients including Sarah Jessica Parker, Ang Lee and Kyra Sedgwick followed Schreck and have remained with him ever since. Others found their way to him shortly after, including Kevin Hart. “People told me it would never work, and that I needed to be in L.A.,” Schreck recalls. (Today, the firm does have a Beverly Hills office, which he visits every month.)
Early victories for Schreck included Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which made its world premiere at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival on its way to a historic Oscar best-picture win. “We had just started the firm and broke our backs putting together the financing and distribution for the film,” recalls Schreck. Toward the end of the decade, another defining moment was shepherding the deal for Parker to star in and produce Sex and the City, which became a cultural phenomenon, pumped up HBO and further fortified Schreck Rose. (More recently, he set up Parker’s lucrative deal for follow-up And Just Like That.)
His roster of A-list clients also includes acclaimed showrunners (Jason Katims), actors (Tony Goldwyn, Marcia Gay Harden, Lucy Liu, Kevin James) and writers (Tony Kushner). He’s been thanked numerous times from the podium at the Academy Awards, Emmys and Golden Globes, a perk he always appreciates.
Schreck doesn’t believe in being adversarial when negotiating, a tactic that has been helpful in an ever-changing world where the usual markers of success have been upended. Like when he helped engineer one of the early streamer overall deals when Katims departed Universal TV in early 2019 for Apple. “We were all trying to figure out how the profits would work, where they would come from. The traditional backend on television programming has changed radically in the past few years,” he notes. “When you approach people with respect, they tend to be a little more open and candid. You can get more information to help figure out what’s fair.”
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
USC Gould School of Law
When an angry Charlie Sheen called in 1989 threatening to fight him, Schwartz kept his cool. He had called the actor’s lawyer a few weeks earlier after Sheen had locked himself in a hotel room in Japan and refused to promote Major League unless he was given $10,000 in cash. Schwartz, who was representing the film’s production company Morgan Creek, responded in kind by telling Sheen’s lawyer that he’d tell every paper that would listen that Sheen needed money for drugs and hookers. “He kept saying, ‘Loosen your tie. I’m going to come over there and teach you a lesson,” the firm partner recalls. “I said, ‘Come on over. Do you need my address?” Deep into his career at that point with a long list of high-profile clients, Schwartz was unfazed and says Sheen ended up backing off.
A couple of years later in 1994, Schwartz won a case that he says was a turning point in his career. He represented Warner Bros. in a suit from two executive producers of Batman, who alleged they were shortchanged when the film showed a net loss of $20 million. A jury never even considered the case, with Schwartz securing the victory on a motion for directed verdict after a string of summary judgment rulings in his favor along the way that included a key finding that the producers did not prove that their contracts were unconscionable. His work on the case was among the reasons he was tapped by Sony in a messy legal battle over the rights to Spider-Man involving Marvel, Viacom and MGM. It ended with Schwartz securing the rights for Sony, which continues to profit from his work. “I went to the head of Marvel and said, ‘It’s coming down to Sony and MGM, and MGM is on life support. You’re never going to get this movie made, and you’re still going to have to give us the home video rights,” Schwartz says of a new deal he helped Sony strike with Marvel.
More recently, Schwartz in 2020 scored a win for Elon Musk in a suit from a British cave explorer who claimed he was defamed when he was called “pedo guy” on Twitter. He also helped Kanye West settle with EMI Publishing in a contract dispute, settled a four-year legal battle over profits to This Is Spinal Tap, and quietly represented victims of sexual harassment and abuse. Over the last 30 years, Schwartz has litigated essentially every form of contract dispute over the distribution and production of content on top of intellectual property, employment and antitrust law for entertainment and media companies.
Legends Honor Roll
This year’s inductees join these attorneys as Legal Legends: Daniel Black, Jake Bloom, John Branca, Skip Brittenham, Harold Brown, John Burke, Joseph Calabrese, Melanie Cook, Jay Cooper, Scott Edelman, Patti Felker, Sam Fischer, John Frankenheimer, Cliff Gilbert- Lurie, 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, Marcy Morris, Bob Myman, Jeanne Newman, Don Passman, Lee Phillips, Bruce Ramer, Marty Singer, Larry Stein, Alan Wertheimer, Ken Ziffren and the late Bert Fields and Howard Weitzman.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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