Lawyers have always been a major part of the Hollywood scene and always will be as delivery systems change with the advent of streaming services like Netflix and Disney and as movies use multiple platforms to generate revenues – as actors become influencers and producers become multi-faceted, multi-platform content creators.
As Hollywood changes some of the heavy hitting entertainment lawyers continue to dominate, but so too are there a growing group of entertainment attorneys who are playing a major part in the reshaping of how Hollywood changes, along with the delivery systems that provide the movies and shows that the world watches.
The Hollywood Law Power List
Mr Entertainment Everywhere
The 74-year-old power lawyer is one of the entertainment law legends. He has worked on upward of $1 billion in deals a year for such clients as Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, Thomas Tull, Ridley Scott and a whole lot more ‘A list’ entertainment law clients.
Brittenham started working for clients like Harrison Ford and Henry Winkler but he never stopped accumulating top league clients and working on deals that imaginatively generate income based on ‘back end’ returns. Increasingly his work has included working for industry executives who can thank him for their income from their business performance. The streaming revolution has seen him have clients’ backend deals purchased.
He has also helped launch Pixar with Steve Jobs and before it sold to Disney, split DreamWorks into two and help set up other major production houses like Illumination Entertainment and Skydance Media. In his spare time he has also set up a comic book company and written three graphic novels.
The Entertainment Streaming King
David Hyman, The Hollywood Reporter’s 2020 Raising the Bar honoree, has survived (and thrived) on the front lines of the streaming revolution.
David Hyman’s nearly 30-year law career can be traced back to the season he spent as a ski bum in Aspen, Colorado, before his first year of law school. When he wasn’t on the slopes, Hyman discovered a law firm in town specializing in real estate. He figured if he wanted to become a permanent mountain dweller, he should become a real estate lawyer.
Hollywood’s concierge consigliere
Vanity Fair said that go-to attorney Marty Singer was the lawyer the stars turned to when they needed their problems to go away. He is, they said, Hollywood’s concierge consigliere. Director William Friedkin said “there are two words that strike fear in the hearts of every network head or studio chief,” and paused pregnantly. “Marty Singer!”
That’s one reason Bill Cosby turned to him.
Among the other train wrecks he’s been involved in has been handling Charlie Sheen’s problems, representing Jean-Claude Van Damme in CourtTV’s first trial after O J Simpson, representing Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta and Tom Arnold in his battle with former wife Roseanne Barr.
wanted to be a doctor until his father got sick and he realized he couldn’t handle the emotional toll. He was on track to become an engineer until he realized that being good at math and science wasn’t everything. Instead, he eventually landed in law and became one of the most famous attorneys in the country by appearing on television (he represented Jean-Claude Van Damme in CourtTV’s first trial after O.J. Simpson) and aggressively representing celebrities including Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still, one can hardly say Singer’s career amounted to a well-executed plan. “I still don’t consider myself to be an entertainment lawyer. I wanted to be a tax lawyer.”
Representing Stephen Spielberg is always going to provide power to an attorney but for Bruce Ramer, there are a list of other legends including Client Eastwood, Robert Zemeckis, Milos Forman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, David O. Russell, Richard Curtis and Ted Melfi.
As well as holding a raft of public positions like chairing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Bruce Ramer had the shark in Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ named ‘Bruce’ after him.
The ‘Greatest Lawyer Ever’
Michael Jackson may be a severely tarnished entertainment figure, but he remains an outstanding talent despite nonetheless and he proclaimed his long-time lawyer John Branca as “the greatest lawyer of all time”.
As head of the music department at the leading entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham LLP where his clients have included more than 30 members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – among them Aerosmith, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Dr. Dre, Earth, Wind and Fire, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Elton John, Nirvana, the estate of Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, the estate of Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones – sports figures such as Mike Tyson, the comedians Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and the Vatican, independent record labels such as Interscope Records and Rhino Records and industry investors such as JVC, Matsushita and Vivend
The affable negotiator keeps busy with a slate of longtime clients. Having repped Robert Downey Jr., for 33 years, he cut his deal to executive produce HBO’s “Perry Mason” reboot and handles matters for the multi-hyphenate’s Tony Stark-like business interests that meld tech and social welfare. Hansen closed a massive five-year deal with Warner Bros.
Television for writer-producer John Wells — a client of 35 years — in 2019, as well as set Al Pacino to star in his first series, Amazon’s “The Hunt.” In 2018, he inked former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to direct his second feature, the political satire “Irresistible.” Although he amicably parted ways with Mel Gibson, his roster remains chockablock with the likes of Stephen Colbert and writer-director Steve Kloves.
The Tough Litigator
If any notorious Hollywood name springs to mind who needed legal help, it would be Harvey Weinstein and his lawyer of choice is top entertainment law litigator Patty Glaser.
A partner at Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP, who is representing Harvey Weinstein in his battle against the company he founded with his brother (although not any sexual-harassment claims).
With a record of clients that also includes Kirk Kerkorian, Keith Olbermann and Conan O’Brien, the firm’s website says she “tops the short list of trial attorneys in the nation sought after for high-stakes litigation.”
Over the course of a 40-plus-year legal career, Glaser brought MGM Grand a $76 million victory in a retroactive insurance litigation suit, and represented Olbermann in his $50 million contract battle with Al Gore’s former network Current TV, O’Brien in his multi-million-dollar contract dispute with NBC, and Jamie Horowitz after he was released from Fox Sports amid sexual harassment claims. Her tough reputation earned her the nickname “Ms. Glacier,” coined while Glaser was representing Main Line Pictures against Kim Basinger in a $7.4 million 1993 lawsuit that bankrupted the actress:
The Entertainment Law Original
If ever there is the quintessential entertainment lawyer – the lawyer who appears to represent everyone who’s anyone, then it is Bert Fields, the
Working with Greenberg Glusker, Bert Fields still practices at 91.
Mr. Fields represents the industry’s top performers, directors, writers, producers, studios, talent agencies, book publishers and record companies. Clients have included DreamWorks, MGM, United Artists, Toho, James Cameron, Tom Cruise, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Mike Nichols, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, Jerry Bruckheimer, Joel Silver, The Beatles, Madonna, Sony Music and many others. In addition, he has represented such major authors as Mario Puzo, James Clavell, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler and Richard Bach.
Bert has represented virtually every major Hollywood studio and talent agency, and he has tried many of the landmark cases in the entertainment and communications industries over the past 30 years. His practice is international in scope and extends beyond the field of entertainment, having represented such diverse clients as Arizona cotton farmers, Las Vegas hotels and casinos, real estate developers and regional shopping centers, clothing designers, manufacturers, boxing promoters, investment firms and even a Japanese Bank.
The Pope of Hollywood
Named the ‘Pope of Hollywood’ decades ago, Ken Ziffren remains an almost holy figure in the Hollywood movie scene. He’s been handling major deals for major studios and stars for longer than most.
As principal in Ziffren Brittenham, he goes back as far as repping Steve McQueen and Miller-Boyett of Happy Days fame, before working to end the writers’ strike involving the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers Guild. He was also heavily involved in maintaining the so-called ‘Fin-Syn’ rules that prevented the networks from owning their content. Ultimately it lead to the merger of networks and studios and has now lead to the new platform with streaming services, leaving the ‘Pope of Hollywood’ as someone who has played a key role in the industry’s transformation.
He also lectures at both USC and UCLA as well as being a generous financial supporter.
New Generation Leader
Following the departure from their firm of storied entertainment lawyers Jake Bloom and Alan Hergott, Leigh Brecheen also left a firm she had been with for over 20 years to set up a new firm with four colleagues who share “a common vision.”
And with her came her major clients, including late night hosts Conan O’Brien and John Oliver and actors Mel Gibson and Jenny McCarthy. O’Brien says his lawyer “always exudes incredible calm, confidence and good cheer while at the same time getting a deal done with ruthless intelligence.”
With a rolodex comprising some of the most powerful people in entertainment, Sam Fischer, a partner at top entertainment firm Ziffren Brittenham, there have also been top TV shows he’s helped stream, including The Simpson, Friends and The Office.
As for the rolodex, there’s Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Sacha Baron Cohen and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and then, lest we forget, there’s also former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, for whose production company Higher Ground he organized Netflix and Spotify deals.
Other clients include TV creators Darren Star and Steven Levitan, writer-director Joss Whedon, Chernin Entertainment, James Murdoch’s Lupa Investments, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s upcoming mobile streaming service Quibi and a whole lot more. An entertainment power player with few equals.
Big Law’s Entertainment Queen
Faiza Saeed is a master of corporate entertainment work, handling major entertainment industry deals left and right. A presiding partner at white-shoe firm Cravaths, she is also one of the only women in the country running one of the top law firms.
She represented Disney in its takeover of 21st Century Fox entertainment assets and Time Warner in its sale to AT&T she didn’t stop. Repping Viacom on their deal $30 billion deal with CBS and the $4 billion purchase of Entertainment One by Hasbro she has also handled Disney’s $10.6 billlion sale of Fox Regional Sports Network and its $3.4 billion sale of its interest in the YES network.
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