There’s No Business Like Show Business Law


There’s No Business Like Show Business Law

Managing passionate personalities, facilitating strange requests and learning the language of the film and TV industry are all in a day’s work in practising entertainment law. That’s what makes it so great. 

Six months into articling at an insurance defence litigation firm, I almost ran screaming from the idea of practising law altogether. It was just not for me. I knew I needed to combine what I loved (Dear reader, it was not and will never be insurance) with what I was trained to do. The arts, especially dance and music, had always appealed, but it wasn’t until my brother, an aspiring musician, cut his own objectively terrible recording deal that my path into entertainment law became clear. With the idea that I could help artists get a fair shake with my legal skills, I started working on behalf of musicians and then segued into private practice for film and television law — and I have not been tempted to run away once.

Entertainment law is never boring. The film and TV business is driven by emotionally invested creators and producers who look upon their projects as parents might their children — they are precious and must be protected at all costs. Their decisions are frequently driven by emotion more than any business case offered in support of them. So, often, an individual’s legal skills are secondary to their ability to manage these passionate personalities in a way that produces an outcome where everyone feels seen and heard equally.

Beyond the people management that keeps you on your toes, there are the truly strange situations and requests you encounter. I have performed voice work for a scratch animation test at the request of a client whose actor failed to show up at a recording session. There have been several very awkward one-on-ones where I’ve found myself face-to-face with directors and actors I’ve admired, instructing them on the dos and don’ts of appropriate workplace behaviour. What is it they say about never meeting your idols? Then there are the talent riders — everything you’ve heard is true. No ask is too outré to be considered. One actor requires a vegan meal delivery service, the other on the same show asks for only a case of tequila and a carton of cigarettes? Fine. Entertainment lawyers make sure it’s all there in black-and-white to follow to the letter.

To be truly successful in this field, you need to learn the industry and its unique language. You’re dealing primarily with artistic people who will look to you for advice on industry standard rates and practices as much as they will for your understanding of copyright law. You’ll often get contracts back littered with industry terms, not legal ones. “The first bite of the apple,” “a 100, 50/50 payout,” “triple bangers” or “100 over 5 royalties” are all things that, when starting out, I had to
ask other entertainment lawyers about. There is no formal glossary of entertainment terminology to help you out with this — it’s all about on the job training.

It is a steep learning curve, but it’s an absolute thrill every time I see my name roll by in the credits of a film or TV series that I’ve played a part in. And that sense of accomplishment — being instrumental in bringing a creative enterprise to fruition — is also why I’ve transitioned from private practice to corporate counsel. Along with becoming colleagues with one of my mentors, Sarah Nathanson, working in-house now at Thunderbird Entertainment means being part of a large legal and business affairs team; it engenders connection to the content we make that didn’t frequently exist in private practice. It’s true. There’s no business like show business. And oh, I do love it so!