To understand what makes Skip Brittenham one of the most powerful entertainment attorneys in the country, picture him fly-fishing.
Standing thigh-deep in one of his favorite roaring rivers, he knows just how to gauge where the biggest trout will be and which fly will catch its attention. Most important, he knows precisely when to strike.
“He’s a feller who can go to New Zealand, Mongolia or Argentina and, in a moment’s notice, can understand the environment and have his way with those fish,” says Buck “Bucky” Buchenroth, who has been Brittenham’s personal fishing guide for the last decade.
These same qualities — patience, cunning, quiet perseverance — make Brittenham Hollywood’s reigning king of the big deal. When it comes to significant entertainment transactions of the last two decades, the 64-year-old has had a line in almost every pond.
“All roads lead to Skip,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chairwoman Amy Pascal, who often seeks him out for business advice even though he is not her attorney.
It has been years since Hollywood has had a consigliere to whom insiders turn. Lew Wasserman, the former talent agent turned media mogul, played that role until his death in 2002.
Now, some people say Brittenham is as close as the industry gets to an unbiased voice of reason.
“If there’s a Lew Wasserman now in Hollywood, I think it’s Skip,” said client Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Film Corp.
Brittenham represents more top studio executives than any Hollywood lawyer, not to mention some of the most bankable stars — Tom Hanks, among others — and corporate clients such as Pixar Animation Studios. But even though most people outside of Hollywood would recognize Brittenham’s famous clients, few have heard of him.
That’s by design. Like Wasserman, Brittenham does not trumpet his successes in the media. He manages to create the perception that he is that rarest of Hollywood creatures: a man not guided by his own agenda. Let other entertainment lawyers get profiled in Vanity Fair. Brittenham keeps the spotlight on his clients, not himself.
“It’s just not my style to give interviews,” Brittenham said when approached about this article.
But behind the scenes, Brittenham is ubiquitous.
“What amuses me most about Skip is he often represents everyone in the deal,” said actor Harrison Ford, a longtime client. “And, he does a really good job for everybody … I’ve always walked away from every negotiation and thought, ‘Jesus, how did he get that?’ ”
For example, he does deals for actor clients Tim Allen and Eddie Murphy and also represents their agent, William Morris Agency Chief Executive Jim Wiatt. One minute, he’s negotiating the executive contracts for 20th Century Fox co-Chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman. The next he’s on the other side of the table from those same studio chiefs, brokering a deal for his director clients, brothers Tony and Ridley Scott.