Power Lawyers saluted at THR event

Warner Bros.' Steve Spira accepts 'Raising The Bar' prize

Sam Gores doesn't think more big Hollywood talent agency mergers are imminent, but the Paradigm chairman-CEO does see the need for new business models during what he anticipates will be "a long period of confusion and transition" in the business.

Gores made his remarks as the keynote speaker at the third Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyers Breakfast Friday at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Speaking to a room packed with top Hollywood lawyers and others, Gores said, "The days of doing things the old way are over."

"We as an industry must build new business models while maximizing our existing ones -- and absolutely minimize efforts to protect old models," Gores warned.

"As the old business models break down, mutate and reform, agents and lawyers have to be quick to see patterns that didn't exist before," he added to the crowd that included talent dealmakers Barry Hirsch and Ken Ziffren, as well as Universal Studios executive vp and general counsel Maren Christensen and Sony Pictures senior executive vp and general counsel Leah Weil.

What that means, Gores explained, is that actors, directors and writers aren't just clients to commission, but have become "businesses or brands who are often global in stature and scope."

He said the new mandate is not the next project, but rather "helping them shape business plans or raise capital or assemble critical mass to get a project up and running. It's less about being their representatives and more about being their partners."

Gores cited as an example client Joel Surnow, who was executive producer of "24." He said the Paradigm TV department was able to create a new financial model "that will allow him the flexibility to produce his next series outside the studio system."

As a result, says Gores, Surnow won't have to wait up to seven years for a payoff from his next hit, but rather "profits may be generated almost from day one."

Among those listening were Warner Bros. chairman Barry Meyer and president Alan Horn, who were on hand to honor Steve Spira, Warners' president of worldwide business affairs, who received The Hollywood Reporter Raising The Bar Studio Lawyer Award. It was presented by Matthew Belloni, THR's managing editor, features, who oversaw the Power Lawyers event and Friday's special issue profiling the 100 most influential attorneys in entertainment.

"It's nice to see an unsung hero sung about," Horn said of Spira.

In his acceptance, Spira said Shakespeare got it wrong in "Henry VI" when he gave lawyers a bad rap. He said if the Bard had met the people at the Power Lawyer Breakfast, "he would have changed the line to 'the first thing they do is kill some of the lawyers.' "

Gores spoke after Spira's speech, predicting that talent agencies that adapt to new models can thrive "without trying to steal each others clients."

"At a time GM is bankrupt and Chrysler is sold to Fiat," said Gores, "Warner Bros. is having the best five years in their history, ESPN is a juggernaut for Disney, NBC and Time Warner's Cable Network divisions are churning out billion dollar annual profits."

Despite economic clouds, Gores waxed optimistic about the growth possibilities in show business.

"Studios and content providers should celebrate the successes of their competitors not their failures because success stories perpetuate more successes and everyone gets their share."