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LOS ANGELES � Entertainment lawyer Patricia Mayer recently juggled phone calls about a French movie deal with a German lawyer in Poland, a London-based sales agent and a Japanese distributor. “You end up on the phone at 6 a.m. talking to the German lady, then at 6 in the evening talking to the Japanese client � the only time you can all get on the phone is midnight,” says Mayer, a partner with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp in Los Angeles. As Hollywood filmmakers increasingly shift production abroad, they’re creating myriad opportunities for U.S. entertainment lawyers. While the so-called “runaway” productions are bleeding thousands of U.S. industry jobs, the migration is a boon for entertainment law practices that thrive on the international legal complexities. “There is no area of the law that doesn’t get expanded and deepened once you step out of the U.S.,” said David Stanley, a former TV producer who recently joined Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella, an L.A.-based entertainment firm, as of counsel. “It’s great for the legal community.” In the past decade, the film industry has witnessed an exodus of movie and TV productions to foreign shores. The cost-saving trend became apparent years ago when studios began moving segments of the production to Canada. Now the industry is filming in places such as Romania, the Czech Republic and South Africa, where production and labor is even cheaper. On the global stage, one of the first orders of business for lawyers is selecting which country’s law to use.
Film Setting Actual Location
“Cold Mountain” (2003) North Carolina Romania
“Racing Stripes” (2005) Kentucky South Africa
“Ask the Dust” (2005) Los Angeles South Africa
“Lord of War” (2005) International Czech Republic, South Africa, New York
“The Hills Have Eyes” (2006) Southwestern U.S. Morocco

While California law is an obvious choice because of the state’s strong industry roots, foreign parties often prefer to use the law of a country that isn’t involved in the transactions. “Oftentimes Europeans prefer English law because it’s European,” Mayer said. “Americans like English law because they think it’s similar and besides, we read English.” The choice-of-law agreement doesn’t always apply to the entire production. Some elements may fall under one national jurisdiction and others under another. Figuring out which one to use can be challenging. Mayer once worked on a film that was written in the U.S., produced in a developing world country and financed by European countries. The cast included a minor, so everything related to his work � hours, overtime, tutoring � had to be checked against the child labor laws of each country, which sometimes were in conflict with each other. “There is no great answer � any of those jurisdictions could have wanted to take jurisdiction,” Mayer said. “You feel like, ‘Oh my God, I could be sued.’” Outsourcing isn’t limited to the set and actors. When working as a producer, Stanley took the musical creation for an original orchestral score overseas. He hired a local composer from Los Angeles but recorded the score in Prague with a 75-person orchestra � a cost-saving move that also raised transcontinental intellectual property issues. “Any time you are acquiring music or hiring anyone to create music, there are sophisticated legal issues relating not only to ownership, but also to who controls the performing and publishing rights,” Stanley said. When non-California law is in play, local help is a necessity. That’s when people such as Guy MacLeod, an attorney with South Africa-based Irish Ashman Attorneys, come in handy. When MacLeod first started with the Cape Town firm, he assisted local and foreign producers with the “peculiar” aspects of that country’s employment law. As foreign film interest in South Africa has surged in recent years, MacLeod began to work with international filmmakers on their contracts in South Africa. “We are a comfort blanket for American producers and their attorneys,” said MacLeod, who helped with legal work for “Racing Stripes” � a movie set in Kentucky but filmed in South Africa. “The production wants to ensure that legally there will be no problems in South Africa.” MacLeod always insists on using South African law, partly because local service companies can’t afford the cost of traveling to California if a dispute arises � a trip that’s significantly more expensive in South Africa’s currency. Financing is also a greater challenge with international filmmaking. As foreign governments recognize the economic benefits of attracting production, they respond with financing incentives. Countries including Canada, the United Kingdom and more recently Romania offer a variety of wage and tax incentives as well as equity funding. “Other countries are catching up and offering similar types of tax-credit programs,” said Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Lawrence Ulman, who specializes in entertainment finance. Ulman represented Miramax in the financing of “Cold Mountain,” a film set in the hills of North Carolina but actually shot in Romania. The movie was blasted in a highly publicized Internet campaign for taking American jobs and millions of dollars overseas. For Ulman, the most interesting aspect of the globalized work has been understanding the people, not the paperwork. “You need to be flexible and understand that people might approach things fundamentally differently,” he said. “There are plenty of smart people who have valid points and approach things differently than we do here.” He’s also learned when to check American aggressiveness at the door. “If you’re going to come in there like gangbusters, all you’re going to do is turn people off,” he said. Greenberg Glusker’s Stanley, the former TV producer, works with fixers � or locals who translate language and culture � when he’s far from home to ease interactions. While he was working on the TV show “Celebrity Mole Hawaii,” a local resident offered to bless the set and crew. The blessing came with a fee, so the show declined � but regretted it later after a series of production mishaps. That may be superstitious, Stanley acknowledged, but following local customs is good policy. “Can you expect your lawyer to know those?” Stanley said. “I don’t think they’re in any law books.” With e-mail and phone connections, traveling overseas with the production isn’t a necessity, entertainment lawyers say. Still, it’s smart business to occasionally put a face with a name and nicer yet to speak another’s language. “Even though by and large people use English, it does help to culturally win someone over,” said Robert Darwell, a fluent French speaker who heads the transactional side of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton’s entertainment practice. Sheppard, Mullin requires that all transactional entertainment law associates speak a second language. Darwell worked on the yet-to-be-released “Ask the Dust,” which is set in 1930s Los Angeles but was filmed in South Africa. “For me, it’s exciting,” he said. “You get to meet local counsel. It’s interesting to talk about the legal parallels � what’s the same and what’s different.” Most people agree that the globalization of the film industry is an irreversible trend. As more countries develop the infrastructure and skilled labor force, they become more attractive as repeat customers. For entertainment lawyers, that means more work to come. “I love dealing with the complex, intellectually challenging transactions because they tax you and require some ingenuity and creativity,” said Fredric Bernstein, co-chairman of the entertainment, advertising and media practice group at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “That’s what makes practicing law fun.”

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