Q&A: Steve Spira

The Warner Bros. commissioner's trusted hand guides studio dealmaking

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Steve Spira was a young New York lawyer representing some Fox executives when Marvin Davis bought the studio and moved Spira west in the early 1980s. Since jumping to Warner Bros., he has spent 24 years rising to president of worldwide business affairs and becoming one of the sharpest and most straightforward studio dealmakers. Spira oversees everything from talent deals with Clint Eastwood and Christopher Nolan to Warners' key relationships with Legendary Pictures and Village Roadshow (and he is known to officiate studio basketball games, leading to his nickname: The Commish). In advance of receiving The Hollywood Reporter's Raising the Bar Studio Lawyer Award at THR's Power Lawyers breakfast, Spira sat down with THR's Matthew Belloni.

The Hollywood Reporter: Has all the turmoil in the business made your job more or less difficult?

Steve Spira: There was a period of time where there was more stability on the representation side, and I think it was a little bit easier to make a deal because representatives weren't quite as frightened that everything they did would be second-guessed and used to steal a client.

THR:: What's something that talent reps do during negotiations that doesn't serve their clients' interests?

Spira: I have a sneaking suspicion that 95% of talent cares about what they get paid and what their credit is, and that a lot of the things you get hung up on with lawyers is their fear of something going wrong and losing a client. Lawyers disadvantage their clients because there are times when they can't get the benefit of the doubt or they don't have the kind of credibility where if they really, really, really need something people are willing to take a risk for them.

THR:: Name a particularly memorable deal you worked on.

Spira: On "Yes Man," Jim Carrey and his representatives were willing to make a new type of deal, which took into account the risk-reward-ratio and rewarded him if we got the value that you would normally pay for him. In fact, it turned out great for us, we've actually been able to replicate (the deal), and people have done very well if they're willing to bet on themselves.

THR:: What do good deal lawyers do effectively?

Spira: The really good ones have enough self-confidence to know what's a fair deal, and they know when to push. There are dealmakers and then there are deal breakers. Sometimes deals get hung up on really little stuff and you realize there is something else going on, which is the person is just afraid to close.