HRTS Member Profile: Barry Haldeman

Barry Haldeman

Barry Haldeman

Barry Haldeman is Of Counsel to Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. I recently had a chance to interview Barry to discuss leverage, distribution channels, and never getting tired.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in Hollywood? How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-I grew up in the entertainment business. My father was a production manager who became a TV series producer, my brother and nieces are actors and my aunt was a script supervisor for 30 years at Fox. I worked as an extra growing up, in high school I worked as a messenger/mail person for a studio and during summers while in college and part of law school I worked in several departments in a studio in Florida, ending up working the set of a TV series as a PA. So I always wanted to be in the business in some form; I knew that from an early age. After I became a lawyer, I wanted to join HRTS since it is the premier Television related networking organization and I also found their lunches invaluable for learning about the Television business.

Q: In terms of contract negotiations, how has producer/talent leverage changed over the past few years? How might it change over the next few?
-everyone has suffered from the economic downturn although both television and motion picture “star” producers and actors and writers continue to be rewarded. For the rest it is sometimes tough, however with the proliferation of other distribution channels for content, the balance may be shifting.

When the Networks were the only game in town, they could set the terms for that media, then HBO and basic cable came along and suddenly buyers increased. Now that there are many additional cable buyers and other outlets are opening up, there is real competition for good product; that will continue. In the end, I believe creative talent and good ideas will find their place and as new distribution platforms determine how to monetize original product, I am hopeful that the playing field will continue to become more level and competition will increase. I also believe talent will control more of the distribution of their own product via new channels and actually distribute directly to the ultimate consumer (look at the YouTube channels) and companies like Netflix will continue developing their own original projects rather than just distributing the projects of others.

I am not sure, however, that everything will stay in Hollywood or that studios or networks will always be production centers. With the advent of subsidies, not only in the US and Canada but also around the world, production is moving to other places and talent and production expertise is developing in other parts of the world. There is nothing like Hollywood crews and talent, they are the best, but there are other alternatives emerging and that may be a good or bad thing. At a recent screening, I heard the comments of an excellent Spanish director who directed an English language film, with British leads, for a Spanish Company and shot it totally outside the US. When asked about working outside the studio system he commented: “Hollywood is no longer a place, it is a state of mind”. That remains to be seen.

Q: What are the most important considerations when negotiating a client’s deal and how are they different in television versus film?
-they haven’t changed: creative control, money and credit are key to both television and film. Under those headings are a lot of sub-issues such as final cut for Film, territorial rights granted and obtaining a fair share of the back end including new media income. In addition, being attached to a project in its various forms (i.e., whether a television spin-off or sequel motion picture or Broadway play) are also important.

What has changed is that projects are being scrutinized a lot more than in the past. If you bring in a project to a buyer (be it Network or Studio) you had better have an attachment (if it’s a film – and maybe even a series though that’s not as key in my experience) and an idea of your audience and a general idea of a marketing plan. Also, commitments are different. For a feature film, there is the famous “green light” commitment to make the picture – and that’s the primary commitment outside of distribution. For TV there is the commitment for the script, for the pilot, then the minimum order commitment, then the full season commitment and future season commitments. It seems you are trying to protect yourself in a different way because one wants to lock the TV commitments as much as possible as early as possible.

Often Film deals take longer and are more intricate to negotiate and have a different negotiation rhythm. There are different considerations with films because once the studio pays for the film, they still have to advance the print, advertising and other distribution costs. So in some ways the initial financial commitment can be more on big pictures than television. With a film you never really know the answer until the opening weekend and by that time a distributor/studio has committed most of their money to the negative cost and distribution. With television, once the network commits to a series, they can still pull a show if it doesn’t perform right away and in that way limit their investment. Result: Television negotiations can be a lot more rapid than film negotiations both because of the volume of television shows and also because the financial commitment on a show by show basis is often not as big, relatively, as for a feature film so not all the details have to be worked out up front. Also, TV is about longevity, staying on the series as long as one wants, with increases every season. Films, by and large, are one shot deals (except, of course, franchise pictures) so the horizon for the picture is much shorter and often talent wants as much as they can get now, as opposed to over time.

Q: What are your thoughts on the next round of guild negotiations?
-I believe that aside from bread and butter issues – minimums, pension and health benefits, the major issue has to be new and emerging media and making sure everyone is treated fairly from a monetary point of view. This has and continues to be key (since the writer’s strike) because everyone is feeling their way with such things as Internet series, changing windows of distribution and “hopping” over advertisements on your TiVo. All parties have to get a fair share of the back end as we all learn how to monetize all these channels of distribution.

Q: What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in entertainment law?
-I cannot say it’s easy these days because of the intense competition. It didn’t used to be that way. Now, for example, law schools like UCLA have excellent entertainment programs that turn out very knowledgeable entertainment attorneys who know a lot about the business before they even start as a new lawyer. But I would suggest the following: if you can get into a law firm, spend some time in another area like litigation, intellectual property, corporate or tax. It will only help you if and when the opportunity to transition to entertainment comes along, because your knowledge will make you a better lawyer. And in this town, all of those areas are bound to touch on the entertainment business so you will develop your own contacts and knowledge.

Since no boutique firm will hire people just out of law school, if you cannot get into a big firm, I’d suggest trying other avenues – working for the legal or business affairs departments of networks, studios, media companies, guilds or agencies. All of them will have a structure from which you can learn and you will gain a knowledge that can only come from the inside. You will also make valuable contacts that will help you in the future. And attend every entertainment class or lunch you can (even while in law school) to get direct knowledge from pros. Extension classes (given by well-known people in the business) HRTS lunches, Bar Association classes and seminars can give one a very quick knowledge of things that it took many of us years to learn. Finally, if you can get into a good local law school, do it. Many of your peers will likely stay in Los Angeles and end up in some area of the entertainment business (it’s a company town) and the friendships you establish in law school can only help you in the future.

Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-the entertainment business is a very exciting place to be and it is constantly changing with new talent and new media arriving on the scene every day. I continue to be impressed by the boundless creativity of those around me. The ability to entertain, engage, educate and touch the emotions of people worldwide is both a responsibility and a pleasure. I never get tired of it.


Comments: 2

  1. Ginia Desmond says:

    I think the subtext here is…it ain’t easy these days…but these are the days we have. I smiled at the comment that Hollywood is a state of mind…the reality is that anything can be made anywhere by anyone…if they have the money, talent and most of a good attorney…and patience. Distribution is the key after all is said and done, isn’t it…

    Mr. Haldeman has this business in his blood…he knows what he’s doing.

    Great article…

  2. […] An interview with Barry Haldeman, profiling his background and practice, was published on the website of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society. […]

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