42nd Entertainment Symposium Tackles Hollywood Turbulence

20180327 EntertainmentSymposiumGumpertZiffrenStandingParamount Pictures COO Andrew Gumpert and Ken Ziffren '65 of Ziffren Brittenham and UCLA Law's Ziffren Center at the 42nd UCLA Entertainment Symposium.

Corporate consolidation, the increasing impact of streaming services, and the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements were at issue as more than 550 leading industry lawyers and executives gathered for the 42nd Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium, Progress Is Paramount: Why Hollywood Will Always Matter, on March 23 and 24.

Paramount Pictures Chief Operating Officer Andrew Gumpert delivered the keynote address, sharing insights from his efforts to turn around that legacy Hollywood studio. In another featured presentation, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly discussed government regulation, “fake news,” and net neutrality.

Participants at the two-day summit offered inside knowledge and prescriptions for growth in a business that has been shaken by several recent storms.

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FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly discusses government regulation, net neutrality and fake news.

As allegations of sexual harassment and assault reverberate across Hollywood, a panel of noted entertainment and employment attorneys surveyed the legal landscape surrounding power imbalances and discrimination in the workplace. Their conversation was the third in UCLA Law’s semester-long series on the #MeToo movement. Said Ronda Jamgotchian of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, who runs on-set sexual harassment training seminars for productions by Disney and other companies, “It’s a scary time for employers right now, because they’re not sure what to do.”

Concerns of a different sort took center stage in a discussion on “The Future of the Television in the Digital Age.” While streaming services are inking expensive talent deals that sometimes reach well into the nine figures, the focus on gender pay disparity has increased. Panelists reminded attendees that a new California law aimed at narrowing the wage gap between men and women prohibits producers from using actors’ salary history, or “quote,” as a way of deciding how much they should be paid.

But, said Lionsgate Television Group president and UCLA Law alumna Sandra Stern ’79, “there’s a whole other issue of opportunity and glass ceiling,” under which women actors often have a lesser chance of landing lucrative leading roles than their male counterparts do. “I don’t think we can really talk in any intelligent way about gender parity without talking about opportunity,” added Stern, who teaches a course in television law at UCLA Law.

A panel on the ins-and-outs of negotiating major motion picture contracts focused on the ways Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other disruptive producers have changed how dealmakers approach creative material. “The best part of the new world order is that it’s very entrepreneurial,” said Imagine Entertainment president Erica Huggins. “If you have a piece of material, it can be one hour, it can be two hours, it can be 20 hours. It can land wherever the material and story tells you it needs to land. So you have many different outlets where you didn’t before, and it’s changed how we see material.”

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L to R: Christine D'Souza Gelb of Endeavor Content, Erica Huggins of Imagine Entertainment, Tara Kole of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown, and Megan O'Brien of Fox Searchlight delve into the details of negotiating major movie contracts.

 

This year, for the first time, the symposium looked to the action on the theatrical stage. A dynamic panel on the economics of live productions featured three Broadway leaders who elucidated the high-risk, high-reward nature of their business for a crowd largely unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Great White Way.

In another presentation, veteran media analyst Tom Wolzien unveiled his insightful and amusing annual snapshot of industry statistics, drawing attention to major opportunities for growth in Asia and the viewing and platform preferences of the all-important people between the ages of 18 and 34, who watch 60 percent less traditional television than their parents do. And UCLA Law professor emeritus Paul Bergman, author of the book Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies, took the audience on his annual  journey through legal issues as seen on film, this year zeroing in on addiction.  

The conversation branched out to other hot-button topics when Republican FCC commissioner O’Rielly offered a taste of the current free-market perspective in Washington during a Q&A with UCLA Law professor and intellectual property expert Doug Lichtman.

O’Rielly told attendees that the rise of fake news should be combatted with “more voices,” rather than increased regulation. As for Obama-era net neutrality rules that require service providers to load all Internet sites at the same speed, regardless of popularity or potential for revenue, O’Rielly said that he was amused by a 2017 segment on HBO’s Last Week Tonight in which host John Oliver encouraged people to flood the FCC with pleas to block a rollback of the regulations. But, O’Rielly made clear, acting in response to such public outcry is “not how we govern”; he voted with the majority to overturn the rules late last year.

The machinations of big media businesses were scrutinized in a discussion on the present “Consolidation Craze,” which was moderated by UCLA Law lecturer Jon Orszag, an antitrust expert with Compass Lexecon. Panelists hashed out how Netflix and its new media brethren have upended traditional entertainment industry practices, and what appropriate responses could be.

20180326 EntertainmentSymposiumCrowdBill Baer, who headed the Justice Department’s antitrust division during the Obama Administration and now works at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, engaged in a lively debate with preeminent media-business analyst Laura Martin of Needham & Company over whether consolidation involving studios Disney and Fox or media conglomerates AT&T and Time Warner make sense for consumers as much as for companies. Corporate finance expert Roy Salter of FTI Consulting offered that the rewards of such mega-mergers outweigh the risks: “There’s just no way to monopolize creativity.” He added that the rise of new platforms enables the rise of new talent. “It’s going to be an extraordinary next 20 years of wonder,” he said. “It’s the best of times.”

Simply keeping up with the times was the overarching theme of the program’s keynote conversation between Paramount’s second-in-command, Gumpert, and Ken Ziffren ’65, founding partner of the leading entertainment law firm Ziffren Brittenham and the guiding force behind UCLA Law’s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.

Gumpert came aboard at Paramount in 2016, when the studio was struggling from several sluggish years and, as he quickly learned, a reputation as the “last stop” for many Hollywood agents, lawyers, producers and talent looking to make a deal. So he and a team of new executives, headed by chairman CEO Jim Gianopulos, embarked on a new “startup” strategy: “the 2.0 of Paramount.”

The year since, Gumpert said, has included new deals with major producers like J.J. Abrams, a distribution agreement with Netflix for the film sequel The Cloverfield Paradox, and some restructuring of Paramount’s business — including possible corporate consolidation — to position it for success in a new industry age. “Folks are thinking about ‘bigger is better.’ I guess we shall see,” he said. “But in the meantime, our job … is to have our helmet[s] on, our shoulder pads loaded, and do our jobs every day.”