Biederman Blog Editor Sherrie Fields, who shot the video above (with music, courtesy JD Lang), reports on Southwestern Law School’s novel intersession program, in which students study Entertainment Law or Alternative Dispute Resolution aboard a Hawaiian cruise. Those who wish to learn more about the program after reading her post may click here:
For those who couldn’t decide whether to spend winter break relaxing on a tropical island or in a classroom earning units, Southwestern Law School’s Second Annual Hawaii Intersession Cruise offered a great way to do both. During the 14-day cruise, students enrolled in either the programs on Entertainment Law or Alternative Dispute Resolution, earned three units of credit, while also enjoying ship-board amenities and visiting four of the Hawaiian Islands. What’s this aloha experience like?During the first evening aboard, students attend an orientation to meet and get acquainted with their professors and other program participants. “Apart from the instruction, the program provides the students with a unique opportunity to get to know one another,” says Neil Ollivierra, a Hollywood executive and program lecturer. “Networking for job opportunities should begin during law school, not after, and should extend to your classmates, many of whom may have incredible resources with respect to job opportunities.”
Classes run daily from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon, with sessions meeting in a dining room reserved for the program. The classroom setting was comfortable for students, with lectures provided with familiar PowerPoint presentations just as at home in the law school; provisions were made so students could use laptops if they wished. Save for the picturesque window views of the ocean and tropical isles, students just might forget they were taking classes afloat.
Then, of course, there are a myriad of out-of-class activities to suit almost any taste. Students quickly bond with each other and participate on the cruise in everything from wine tasting to karaoke; groups bundle up at night for “Movie Under the Stars” presentations of recent film showings; the vessel features several bars, lounges and a casino, as well as a night club that is lively into the wee hours. And to counter the tasty and tasteful 24-hour buffet style dining, ship offers a full gym.
The trip’s climax is four consecutive stops on Hilo, Oahu (Honolulu), Kauai and Maui. Professors don’t schedule classes so students can spend the entire day exploring the islands on their own or by booking excursions. The adventurous go ashore for hiking, cave and volcano exploring and snorkeling; those with more subdued interests can go whale watching or touring of historic Pearl Harbor. Beaches for tanning or surfing are plentiful. Once back on ship, a festive tone took hold on the ocean liner as Christmas decorations appeared everywhere and musicians aboard serenaded passengers with Christmas carols before the ship guests, dressed in formal wear, floated off to a holiday feast.
Students enrolled in Entertainment Law were immersed in a combination of new and traditional courses taught by respected attorneys in the field. The curriculum included: Selected Topics in Financing and Distributing Independent Films, with adjunct Professor Michael Blaha; Selected Topics in Motion Picture Production Law, with Neil Ollivierra, esq., former Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs at Lionsgate Entertainment; and Selected Topics in Live Entertainment instructed by Simon Lamb, esq., chief operating office and general counsel, Insomniac Events.
Financing, Distributing Independent Films
For Michael Blaha, teaching Selected Topics in Financing and Distributing Independent Films provides a seamless fit, with his deep background in independent film. He has a long resume that includes: adjunct Associate Professor of Law at Southwestern; entertainment lawyer; and a film and stage producer with credits for Chi Girl, a Slamdance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner. Blaha created the indie film financing course for Southwestern’s juris doctor program in 2006, which, he recalls, coincided with his increased professional focus on this niche of film making. The course offers an overview of independent film making from what constitutes an indie to the traditional and alternative methods of financing these works and finally through to distribution of independent films in today’s market. Breaking down the varying methods in financing an independent film, Blaha foresees the norm for support of a larger-budget independent film ($5 million) combining pre-sales and private equity, while a micro-budget film (less than $1 million) will tap crowd-funding, a collective effort of individuals pooling their money via the Internet. And when it comes to what’s new with independent films’ distribution, he sees digital on the rise and film festivals as key to securing distribution deals.
After working as in-house counsel at Columbia Pictures for almost a decade, Blaha pursued his own practice focused on independent film, preferring the flexibility so he could choose the cases and deals he now works on. “I like the wide diversity of stories and filmmakers present in the independent film world and I generally prefer independent films to mainstream, studio movies, although there certainly are some of the latter that I enjoy,” Blaha says. There’s also an advantage in representing clients as an entertainment attorney and film producer, he offers: “Being a producer myself has given me better insight into how the process works, especially in terms of rights acquisition and development, and that, in turn, gives me an advantage in identifying issues in both litigation and transactions.”
Blaha in his lectures stressed the importance of networking, as a law student and later as an attorney to grow a successful Entertainment Law practice. “I tell every law student who has ever asked me how to “break in to the business” that networking is essential to that goal,” he says. “The clients are at those meetings, receptions, festivals, conferences and seminars, as are other lawyers who may refer matters to you because they don’t handle a particular type of matter or have a conflict.” He also urges students to develop mentorships by networking. “Try to find a mentor who has something in common with you,” he says, adding that, “some connection between you and your potential mentor will allow you to stand out from the pack. Respect their boundaries, don’t push too hard for a job or a referral and be patient. It might take a mentor a week or a month to get back to you, but most of them will get back to you eventually.”
He underscores that students should take away from his course the point that representing clients in the rapidly changing areas of independent film financing and distribution requires patience, creativity and vision.
Motion Picture Production Law
In Selected Topics in Motion Picture Production Law, adjunct Professor Neil Ollivierra gave students an overview from a legal perspective of the development and production of a theatrical motion picture. He broke down for his class, provision by provision, typical agreements negotiated and drafted in association with a motion picture. Ollivierra rooted his discussions in his experiences in the industry, especially as former Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs at Lionsgate Entertainment.
With timely and pertinent anecdotes to enliven and clarify points, including technical matters, he offered guidance and counsel to his class of prospective attorneys on how they could acquire knowledge needed to draft complex agreements on their own. While that initially might seem daunting, especially given the complexity and length of, say, a typical production-related contract, Ollivierra stressed that students need, even before they graduate, to develop a toolbox or “language bank” of provisions they can tap for practice. “Carefully chosen words are the tools of the profession, with respect to transactional attorneys,” Ollivierra says. How to get and hone these? He recommends practical experience via internships and upper-division Entertainment Law coursework.
He draws an analogy between the work of a film production attorney and an architect, saying: “The production attorney is expected to be familiar with the general framework of a wide variety of agreements, while understanding how modifications of certain provisions affect the agreement on the whole, as well as other agreements related to the same production.” This legal practitioner also works akin to a mechanic, “The production attorney is expected to bring to the job an organized toolbox full of useful contracts and legal provisions with which to address any number of prospective scenarios; the quality and diversity of the contents of such a so-called toolbox, or ‘language bank,’ directly reflect the experience and versatility of its owner.”
The professor himself followed a model, envious path: He turned his Southwestern Law School externship into a post-graduation job at Lionsgate Entertainment. A group of people, whom he terms talented and dedicated and who hold entry-level to seasoned executive posts, helped him gain invaluable learning experiences, he says, adding, “That I was first invited to teach Motion Picture Production Law at Southwestern Law School as an adjunct faculty member a mere four years following my entry into the field is a glowing testament to the quality of the vast knowledge and generous instruction provided to me by my mentors at Lionsgate.” Ollivierra also praised his Southwestern education, experience and professors for giving him a sound professional foundation — and that launch with that externship.
Students must wring value from experiences like externships, staying astute and striving to learn something from everyone they meet, he says: “Be attentive and easy to train. Your supervising attorneys won’t likely have a lot of time to spare, so try to make the most of what they have to offer you.” And when it comes to starting in a humble, correct way, he advises, “Don’t be in a hurry to work on the sexy deals; everybody wants to do those. But if you can be trusted to efficiently handle the tedious stuff that your boss hates doing … that’s the kind of thing that can get you hired and get your foot in the door.” With no previous experience in theatrical movies, Ollivierra had to clamber a ways after graduation. “As it turns out, ” he says of his start, “the bottom of the ladder is the best place to lay a strong foundation for a practice with a broad scope, such as motion picture production.”
Ollivierra, an aficionado of the arts and deeply involved in his expressive side, has been both an artist and executive, traveling to nearly every continent to conduct, nurture, develop and exchange creative properties. He has worked in the entertainment industry in different capacities, including finance, development, production, distribution and marketing of music and film. “I’ve been involved in the arts in one way or another since I was a small child, and never departed from it,” he says. “I decided later in life to steep myself in the legal aspects of the arts and entertainment industries to more strongly and positively impact the international development of respectable works and voices in the arts.”
Balancing a legal sensibility and a creative spirit, he says he hopes to help forge a greater understanding of different cultures and society: “I perceive art as a discipline of communication, and my interest lies in discovering, developing and sharing artistic works and experiences that express honest, powerful and positive messages. [These] showcase a high standard of artistic craftsmanship and collaboration and inspire the exchange of new ideas. I feel there is no better way to gain an understanding of a society of people than to examine its celebrated art works.”
In Selected Topics in Live Entertainment, adjunct Professor Simon Lamb, chief operating officer and general counsel of Insomniac Events, examines a new and growing area of Entertainment Law. With the popularity of music festivals in the United States surging anew, as they once did in their 1960s and 1970s heyday, attorneys face an array of legal issues surrounding these events, before, during and after. Lamb, who created this course, has first-hand experience in the field as his firm, which puts on live music and entertainment, produces the annual Electric Daisy Carnival.
He identified legal issues that can arise, in the planning, production and aftermath of live events. He provided examples from legendary music festivals like Woodstock and talked about legally challenging incidents such as the deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, where country duo Sugarland was scheduled to perform.
His class introduces students to the legal steps in producing events, touching on all the contracts that are executed, including for venues, vendor agreements, sponsorships, insurance and permits. He noted that constitutional claims that have cropped up over live-event regulation; he delved into legal challenges that can develop over performers’ and performance content, particularly when acts in live events may be known for their talent in certain, targeted musical genres, whether these might be rock, rap and electronic dance.
Live entertainment practitioners also may need to unsnarl local laws or regulations about sound and noise and health and safety matters, he says.
His class mixed of lecture and practical experience, including an exercise in which students broke into groups to identify and negotiate pertinent terms in a venue agreement.