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LOS ANGELES � This year’s Sundance Film Festival provided a double dose of success for Christopher Keene, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. “Chicago 10,” a documentary he co-produced, was chosen to kick off the film festival last weekend. And at 3 a.m. Monday, sitting in a rented house in Park City, Utah, Keene closed the sale of a fledgling client’s film. “I couldn’t be happier professionally,” said Keene, 36, an attorney with Archer Norris, a 70-lawyer firm based in Walnut Creek. Keene’s career path through Hollywood has had more than a few plot twists, but the launching of an entertainment practice at Archer Norris was perhaps one of the least expected. From an early age, Keene was intrigued by show business. He grew up in Orange County and attended UCLA but didn’t get involved in the industry until he was at Vanderbilt University School of Law. There, he took an internship with Creative Artists Agency, a top Hollywood talent agency, in the music department. “It was mostly contemporary Christian and country,” he recalled. “And I was in a punk rock band in high school.” But that wasn’t what deterred him from taking a job at the agency after law school. With a death in the family, he wanted financial stability, and CAA had a lengthy apprenticeship program. He took a litigation job at then-Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft in Los Angeles, working with clients such as Lloyd’s of London. “I loved the courtroom thing, but after two years I said I have got to follow this,” he said. So he signed on with the Endeavor Talent Agency. “I took a $75,000 pay cut and went to work in the mailroom. I was thrilled.” There, he became an assistant to an agent who represented documentary maker Brett Morgen. He eventually invited Keene to help produce “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” about legendary Paramount producer Robert Evans. Keene packed his bags for New York City where “we worked our asses off � it was absolutely incredible.” His work as an associate producer involved running interference with the studio, making deals with outside vendors, and lots of licensing work. “It’s not complicated from a legal perspective, but having a legal background takes out a lot of the fear and anxiety,” he said. “The Kid” won critical acclaim upon its 2002 release. But it was hard getting other projects off the ground. “Life as an independent producer became a bit of a rocky road,” said Keene, who had since married and started a family. So he thought he’d start, on the side, a solo entertainment law practice. Richard Vanis Jr., an Archer Norris partner and an old UCLA fraternity brother of Keene’s, proposed an alternative: Do the same thing, but at a firm where he’d have infrastructure and support. “I said absolutely,” Keene recalled, though he added one caveat: He needed time to finish co-producing “Chicago 10,” a Morgen-directed documentary on The firm agreed to a flexible work structure over the next two years. Keene started off splitting his time, but eventually spent more days at the firm than away. It wasn’t hard, he said: With the focus on negotiation, the two jobs had a lot in common. As the firm’s sole entertainment lawyer, he’s building a client base by turning to the actors, directors and writers he had met through his previous work, networking at parties and events several nights a week. The firm has been fully supportive, he said, letting him forgo hourly rates for commission on some clients and giving him an expense account for networking at Sundance. “It’s worked out to our mutual interest,” said founding partner Lee Archer, who added that the firm hadn’t planned to start an entertainment practice. The firm has offices in Walnut Creek, Los Angeles, Newport Beach and Sacramento. Archer said he was impressed with how quickly Keene turned his former competition � such as other producers � into clients. Keene has about two dozen clients and is hoping to expand the entertainment practice in Los Angeles. “I am not going to pick off Brad Pitt,” he said, “but I am going to figure out who is going to be the next Brad Pitt.” And that, he said, is what he did with documentary director Seth Gordon, signing him on before other lawyers had approached him. While the two were in Park City this week, Keene negotiated the sale of the domestic and foreign distribution rights to Gordon’s “The King of Kong,” which follows video gamers in their quests to set world records for arcade classics. According to Variety, the deal with Picturehouse and New Line Cinema is in the high six figures. Keene closed the deal early Monday at the kitchen table in New Line’s house in Park City. After signing the documents, they all celebrated with glasses of whiskey before catching some sleep � and then catching a few more films. “‘Chicago 10′ opened the festival, and we were able to sell my client’s film � it’s really all I could have asked for,” Keene said.

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