It’s a snowy day in Boston, a good chance to catch up on the paperwork that piles up on the desk of your average entertainment lawyer, and sometimes on the desk of below-average members of the guild like myself.
I attach binder clips to several mega-contracts, scan Variety for box office numbers of several “indie” films I’ve been “attached” to–hmm, maybe the inclement weather interrupted an electronic transmission of receipts from the Framingham 14 Megaplex–when my phone rings.
The stars come out–in Framingham, Mass.!
I say my name in a crisp, professional tone and a smoky woman’s voice responds.
“Do you all do . . . um . . . like entertainment law?” she asks.
“We do,” I reply in my best marketing voice. “How can we help you realize your dreams?”
She sounds . . . troubled–distrait. “Do you handle cases against, like MTV and VH1?”
I think back to all the washed-up rock stars making excuses for their drug-addled train wrecks of careers I’ve watched on VH1. “We are well equipped to handle that sort of case,” I say confidently.
“You–you took drugs? Get out of town!”
“Good–because MTV and VH1 are stealing thoughts from my brain through television waves and using them in their shows!”
I leaned back in my chair and stared out at the grey New England sky. Such a sad story–and one I’d heard so many times before!
“So–do you handle that kind of case?” the woman asks, recalling me from my reverie.
“We are,” I begin, then pause for effect, “the pre-eminent cable TV mind-control firm in the Northeast,” I say with more than a little pride. “Nobody else even comes close!”
“Great!” she exclaims. “So you’ll take me on as a client?”
“Well, there’s the little matter of our up-front, non-refundable retainer,” I say. “The complimentary first cup of coffee, the fancy carpeting in our reception area that hides the spills of such coffee–these things don’t come cheap,” I say.
“How much is the retainer?”
“I can transfer the retainer to your account by mind control.”
“We will require a minimum of $2,000 for a brain wave misappropriation case” I begin, but the line goes dead. Our phone system is getting old, and dropped calls are starting to become a real problem.
Such is the life of a jack-leg entertainment lawyer, struggling to get by in a highly-competitive field to which hordes of untrained and unqualified practitioners have been drawn by television legal dramas such as L.A. Law and Ally McBeal. For those of us who’ve been laboring in these vineyards for a long time, the influx of johnny-and-janey-come-latelies is cause for more than a little bitterness.
“You knuckle-sucking twerp!”
How many of them, I ask myself, have ever had the sort of intimate industry insider conversation I had with a major Hollywood ”player” who called me to discuss a screenplay he was late with–all dialogue guaranteed verbatim:
SECRETARY: There’s a call for you.
ME: Who is it?
SECRETARY: The screenwriter on that baseball movie.
HIM: Who the fuck are you to tell your client not to pay me?
I hope someday when I give my Oscar acceptance speech that I can properly thank him for the guidance and assistance he gave a tyro like me back when I was starting out.
Durante: A real entertainer.
There are, of course, more tangible rewards to dealing with the talented, creative types who run the entertainment industry, and those who want to join them. Just as Hollywood producers learned early on that the promise of fame and fortune enabled them to “audition” budding starlets on their casting couches, just mention that you do some entertainment law at an otherwise boring business reception and the next day you can expect a FedEx package containing a headshot of the marginally-attractive man or woman you met who is currently toiling away in obscurity at the First Second Short National Bank.
As Jimmy Durante used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”