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Career Overview: Entertainment Lawyers manage all legal matters for Writers, Directors, Producers, Actors, and sometimes below the line crew. This includes contractual agreements, negotiations, advice, and counseling.
General Salary Range: $90,000 to $120,000
Become an Entertainment Lawyer
Long-time Entertainment Lawyer Samantha Herman is also a Screenwriter, which gives her extra insight into the business for her clients. “Currently, I am balancing my legal work with my screenwriting. I am very fortunate right now in that I work for myself so I’m able to take on clients and projects per my own schedule,” she says.
“To get more specific, on the legal side, I am a business affairs consultant and production legal adviser. I primarily work with independent filmmakers and production companies, as well as start-ups. Sometimes the client needs an a la carte service, such as a singular contract drafted, or a new business entity registered. Recent examples include an option agreement to acquire rights in a screenplay and talent agreements for a short film.”
Herman really can be involved in all kinds of the nitty-gritty throughout an entire project:
“Other times, I will work on the entire lifespan of a film, from A-Z, starting with the chain of title on the idea up to the distribution deal when the film is ready for exploitation. Regardless of the scope or nature of the project, my general approach is to discuss what the client envisions for their agreement, identify questions or concerns that they haven’t considered, prepare a first draft of the contract, and tweak until we have achieved language that captures exactly what they want communicated,” she says.
Herman states she doesn’t mind being the one to ask a lot of “what ifs” on behalf of her clients: “Because I work mostly in the entertainment space, there tends to be a lot of excitement and enthusiasm when my clients are embarking on a new artistic endeavor — as there should be! But then I come in to make sure that if the project doesn’t go as planned, we can institute measures to deal with those ramifications. Also, because a contract doesn’t appear on-screen, sometimes the paperwork can be undervalued and deemed a boring afterthought. However, you can’t commercialize even the most artistically sound works without having the correct documentation in place. In answer to this actual question, there is no typical workday. Which is very exciting for me!”
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Herman loves that her job allows her to combine her legal knowledge and creative goals: “I always knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, I just wasn’t sure in exactly what capacity. I went to law school thinking that I might pursue a career as a Talent Agent because a legal background is common in those jobs. After living in LA, I came to realize this wasn’t right for me. While I was working at a law firm, I dipped my toes in the production world by helping out a friend with his proof of concept pilot, handling all the union compliance, production agreements, and intellectual property concerns. Soon after, I wound up producing a series of short films and music videos where I was able to combine my legal knowledge with my creative aspirations. Ultimately, I produced a feature film, Let’s Rap, that I co-wrote with my brother.”
That experience led to Herman opening her own company: “After all of that hands-on experience with my own projects, I concluded that this was something I wanted to continue, on my own terms, while also carving out the potential to write my own scripts. I founded my company, Frankly, My Dear, and through that, I offer the business affairs services. In 2018, I produced two feature films (Robbery &; The Bellmen) and wrote two films for the Hallmark Channel, and I’m currently writing three more that will air in 2019. I also have a movie-related podcast with two of my best friends called Get Spoiled. So, I’m pretty sure I have taken an unusual trajectory and didn’t follow a traditional route at all!”
Education & Training
Herman says there’s no way around law school for this field, and she recommends starting as early as possible: “For starters, law school is the starting ground, with a focus on intellectual property, negotiations, and contracts. But beyond traditional education, it’s important to understand the industry as a business, because it’s always changing. There are more and more platforms, and the general landscape is opening up to more bespoke agreements tailored to niche types of projects. Following the trades and being aware of what types of projects are getting attention will always be beneficial. If possible, starting earlier than later while studying is also useful, which could be a summer internship at a studio or entertainment-skewing firm.”
Experience & Skills
“Again, I think being as knowledgeable about the entertainment industry as possible and being able to speak the language will make someone stand out in a very congested pack,” Herman says.
Herman states her job really is all about the details: “There are Litigation Attorneys who tend to be more competitive and love a debate. I’m at the other side of things, when everyone is happy to be starting the project and things haven’t gotten contentious. The best approach to ensure that everyone stays happy is to be extremely detail-oriented, thorough, and have the ability to imagine various outcomes and plan ahead accordingly. In conducting a negotiation, I think the most successful traits are being respectful of the other side’s perspective, being clear about what your client can and can’t agree to, and remembering that you are your client’s advocate.”
“Because my career is generally unusual, I don’t adhere to a certain schedule. I work whenever there is work to be done and when I can take a break, I do! The people I work with most commonly are Producers, Line Producers, and opposing counsel,” says Herman.
Herman wants those starting out to know that no job is really too small: “Any role at a law firm or studio in the business affairs department will provide a leg up. There are also many student or low budget films that can always use a helping hand. I would suggest looking for opportunities to get real-world experience on a film set as that will give information on exactly what goes on and why and for whom contracts are necessary.”
According to Herman, for most Entertainment Attorneys you are looking at a firm position, versus working freelance: “A law firm position is salaried with quite a lot of growth potential. The most lucrative positions are at the partner level, which requires a lot of client acquisition. For me, because I work for myself, I’m essentially a freelancer. I have my standard hourly rates for the shorter-term projects. And for the longer-term projects, I will negotiate a flat fee commensurate with the project.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
“I’m old-fashioned and I do my networking live and in person. Though I am sure there are innumerable groups and trade organizations, especially in California,” Herman says.
The International Association of Entertainment Lawyers may serve as a valuable resource.
- Stay informed about the entertainment industry by reading the trades and online publications.
- Take general meetings with anyone that will take one with you as this industry is extremely relationship-driven.
- Volunteer or intern where and when possible.
- Be nice!
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Don’t be afraid of rejection. The entertainment industry, even on the legal side, takes a lot of hustle.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Believing that there is only one set path and only one way to ‘make it.’”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Not sure — ultimately, remember this is a job that is all about the details.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Samantha Herman was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, to Lesli and Robin Herman. During her childhood, she was exposed to television and films, both current and classic, and a lifelong fascination was created.
She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature (major), History (minor) and Film Studies (minor). Though she always wanted to participate in the entertainment industry, she decided to first go to law school in order to earn a relevant business and contracts background. To that end, she graduated cum laude from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010.
After graduation, knowing that there was only one place to be for a blossoming filmmaker, she moved to Los Angeles. There, she endured the grueling California Bar exam, which she passed on her first attempt. She spent time working at a law firm before realizing her true passion was still calling. She first collaborated on a short film in Los Angeles as the project’s Production Lawyer. Thereafter, she joined the production company, Landed Entertainments, full-time. With the company, she now continues as the Los Angeles office’s General Counsel. In addition, she works as a Producer for music videos, short films, and features. As a Writer, Samantha collaborates with her partner in comedy crime, her brother Jesse Herman.
She is also the author of a romance novel.