For three Wednesdays in June, a record crowd of executives, lawyers, and other entertainment industry stakeholders joined together for the 46th annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium, sponsored by the law school’s Ziffren Institute for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.
The webinar series, “Fungible Hollywood: From Box Office to Bytes to Blockchain,” featured five content-rich panels and culminated in a keynote conversation between institute founder Ken Ziffren ’65, partner at Ziffren Brittenham, and Mary Parent, chairman of worldwide production at Legendary Entertainment.
“Technology has always played a critical role in both bringing entertainment to the home and drawing audiences out to entertainment venues,” says Professor Doug Lichtman, faculty director of the Ziffren Institute. “But, as this year’s conference made clear, technologies from streaming and podcasting to blockchain and AI are fundamentally reshaping how entertainment goes to market, how brands and reputations are built, and the supportive role that lawyers and executives can and must play.”
The event has grown since it was first held virtually in 2020. “By every metric, this year’s symposium was record-breaking,” says Cindy Lin, executive director of the Ziffren Institute. “We were joined by our biggest audience to date, had our widest international reach, and eclipsed all previous fundraising records. We couldn’t be more excited, or more grateful.”
A Powerful Means of Support
Participants enrolled in the event to learn about new topics and earn continuing education credits, but they also can feel proud that they were part of an event that generated significant funding for UCLA Law.
“This event is not only great for the entertainment industry bar, it really matters to our mission of educating the next generation of lawyers and leaders,” says Interim Dean Russell Korobkin. “The funds raised this year will help more students afford a UCLA Law education, allow those students to participate in even more innovative courses and clinics, and ultimately put them in a position to more meaningfully serve both their clients and their communities.”
More than 55 law firms, studios, talent agencies, and entertainment companies sponsored the event. “The UCLA Entertainment Symposium is a one of a kind event serving the legal and broader entertainment community year in and year out,” says Matt Thompson, co-chair of the Entertainment Symposium Advisory Committee, Ziffren Institute advisory board member, and co-leader of the entertainment, sports and media group at Sidley Austin, one of the lead sponsors of the symposium.
“It’s fantastic to hear candid insights from real experts in the field, with panelists engaging on the issues they live, and in many cases have themselves pioneered. It’s a great learning opportunity for all of us, from law student to seasoned practitioner, and indeed for anyone connected to and passionate about this business. And the symposium’s sponsors play a critical financial role in UCLA Law’s mission to better the community at a time when the budgets of all public institutions are under pressure.”
Technologies of Tomorrow
Highlights of the three two-hour sessions included:
- Tom Wolzien, chairman of Wolzien LLC and the Video Call Center, provided his annual fact-filled and insight-packed overview of the financial and operational realities of the entertainment industry. He remarked, “If the streaming companies want to have the revenue to continue to produce great stuff, they need to increase the perceived value of their product by the consumer.”
- Tom Ara, co-lead of the sports, media and entertainment group at DLA Piper, led a panel discussion looking at the possible future role for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the entertainment business. The session highlighted the potential of NFTs as a possible funding source, as a new way to engage with fans, and as a potential legal quagmire. Ara was joined by Gary Vaynerchuk, Joe Conyers III, and Hannah Taylor.
- Dollie Bishop, president of production and creative development for the Black Effect Podcast Network, moderated the panel “The Return of Audio: How Podcasts Became the New Radio Star.” It delved into how podcasting’s low barriers to entry and its ability to engage listeners in intimate, emotional ways are driving real growth in the medium – but that popularity must be met with creative strategies for monetization, content development, and brand-building. Bishop was joined in conversation by Jean Chi, Jen Sargent, and Pat Shah.
- Dale Cohen, director of UCLA Law’s Documentary Film Legal Clinic, led the John H. Mitchell Panel on Ethics and Entertainment, “AI, Avatars and Deep Fakes: Ethical and Legal Issues for the Entertainment Industry.” Panelists outlined positive use cases for AI – such as subtitling and dubbing of video content – but expressed concern about deep fakes and other hard-to-regulate but dangerous content. Cohen was joined by Eriq Gardner, Jane Han, Amy Lucas, and Danielle Van Lier.
- “The Rise of the Multimedia Star-Entrepreneur” was moderated by Ken Basin, global head of business operations for Riot Entertainment. Some of today’s biggest stars happily wear multiple hats – think actor-writer-director-producer – and, as a result, managing and representing them requires a new and comprehensive partnership approach. Joining the discussion were Camrin Agin, Theresa Kang-Lowe, and Matthew Johnson.
Mary Parent, Industry Legend
The symposium’s last session was a personal and informative keynote conversation between Parent and Ziffren. Parent has been involved as either a producer or executive with a remarkable slate of movies that have collectively grossed more than $20 billion at the global box office, including Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, and The Revenant.
In a wide-ranging Q&A, Parent surveyed her significant career in the industry as both an executive and a twice-Oscar-nominated producer, from “starting at the bottom” at ICM to landing jobs at New Line, Universal, and MGM to ultimately reaching Legendary. She also reflected on the state of the industry in 2022 after the challenges of COVID-19, a changing business model, and today’s inflationary climate, acknowledging that “we have a very good business, but it’s a very different business.” She hit an optimistic tone, however, emphasizing that “storytelling can inspire us, and that’s so important right now . . . you have to make something that people will talk about.”
Introducing Law Students to Entertainment
The opportunity to sit down, virtually, for a frank discussion with an acclaimed movie executive like Mary Parent is not something that many law schools can offer their students.
“In fact, UCLA Law, located in the entertainment capital of the world and strengthened by its association with the Ziffren Institute, is a terrific place where law students can experience a practical, professional, and up-close look at the legal and business challenges facing Hollywood today,” says Robyn Polashuk, member of the Entertainment Symposium Advisory Committee, Ziffren Institute advisory board member, and co-chair of Covington & Burling’s communications and media industry group.
Follow us on LinkedIn, on Instagram, and, sometime soon, in the Metaverse, for highlights of this year’s symposium, additional Ziffren Institute programming, and information on next year’s 47th Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium.