Posts In "Labor/Employment"

Labor/Employment




Employment Law 101: Hollywood Edition

While I most often write on Law Law Land about copyrightsInternet issues, and various things Hollywood, the bread and butter of my practice is employment litigation: more specifically, representing employers who are sued for wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and/or wage and hour claims. In California, employment laws tend to favor employees, and like any employer, Hollywood employers are vulnerable to employment lawsuits when they don’t cross their T’s and dot their I’s (and sometimes even when they do).

The Hollywood employment lawsuit du jour was brought against MTV by a former employee on the show The Hills. Do you remember that trip to Costa Rica the cast took for the 100th episode of the show? Yeah, me neither — as much as I love me some Justin Bobby/Audrina drama (almost as much as I love James Franco and Mila Kunis’ spoof of them during the writers’ strike), I just couldn’t stomach K-Cav as leading lady. [Ed. Note: Did any of the last sentence mean anything to you, dear readers? No, me neither.] But this Costa Rica trip will now live on in infamy, not only as the trip where Justin Bobby apparently wore a Confederate flag hat, but also as the trip that fueled this lawsuit.

According to the complaint, Eliza Sproul was a Field Clearance Coordinator/Production Coordinator on The Hills and accompanied Kristin and crew to Costa Rica. There, her employment “took a turn for the worse” when she was allegedly pressured with drugs, sexually harassed, and forced to work long hours until she “essentially broke down” from exhaustion. The complaint was just filed on October 18, so MTV has not yet filed any responsive papers. But I’m going to put on my employment litigator hat for a moment to analyze Ms. Sproul’s claims. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Q&A: How Should I Paper My Ultra-Low Budget Associate Producing Agreement?

Q: A friend is self-financing and producing a micro-budget script that she wrote. She has asked me to help as an Associate Producer. It seems like a Work for Hire situation, but there’s no money for salaries. What’s the best way to formalize such an agreement?

A: As a basic rule in life, never get involved with any endeavor that can be described in a sentence that includes, in any order, the words “friend,” “self-financing,” and “micro-budget.” If the basic rule applies, run. She can’t be that good of a friend. You didn’t say she’s your best friend, just a friend. A friend in LA, at most, means you met her once and she added you to her 1,500 (and growing) other “friends” on Facebook. But even assuming she’s really a “friend” as used to be defined by a dictionary, then keep in mind that the second best way to lose a friend is to work for free on a “micro-budget” production. (In case you’re wondering, the best way is to lend money to a friend to produce a “micro-budget” script.)

But if you’re itching to test these common sense axioms, if you’re in it for a life lesson, then here is how you should formalize the deal. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Q&A: Should I Agree to Give My Actor a Stop Date?

Q: I’m a producer and am doing a small low budget film. I’m wrapping up some of my actor agreements right now, and one of my actors, who’s had a few bit parts in some straight-to-DVD movies, has asked for a “stop date.” I’m pretty sure I know what that means and think I’m okay giving him one but are there any aspects to a stop date I should be wary of?

A: I’ve been on a few “stop dates” in my day. I show up at my date’s door and she says “stop,” turns around and shuts the door. Luckily those days are past because I’m a hotshot entertainment attorney with a popped collar (oh, and I’m married with two kids).

Your stop date, of course, has nothing to do with the preceding terrible joke. It’s a protection that actors may ask for but may not always get. Unfortunately, “stop date” is another term that’s bandied about in the industry as though it means something concrete, when in fact it means whatever it’s defined to mean in an agreement. Therefore, your first lesson, if you decide to give your actor a stop date, is to clearly define exactly what is being stopped on that date. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Agents vs. Talent: Money For Nothing?

A little over a year ago, I wrote about a rash of lawsuits brought by managers against former talent clients. If 2010 was, as I suggested, the year of managers suing their ex-clients for unpaid commissions, then 2011 appears to be year of agents suing their ex-clients for the exact same thing. This time, though, the agents are in the driver’s seat.

Last week, one of the biggest agencies in the world, United Talent Agency, sued Adam Herz, a writer and producer on American Pie 3, for at least $700,000 in unpaid commissions. A few days later, a story broke about Paula Abdul firing UTA and refusing to pay UTA commissions on her income from X-Factor. UTA seems ready to fire off another lawsuit against Paula. So, what gives? Why is UTA all of a sudden getting stiffed (or, to quote the terrible pun making its way around the Internet, “Stifler’d”)? Continue reading the full story . . . »


Are Death and Taxes All That’s Left for Francis Ford Coppola After Winning the Lifetime Achievement Award?

[Ed. Note: Law Law Land's concludes its calendar-be-damned Oscar week with new contributor Stefanie Lipson, who takes on the plight of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner and his progeny.]

There is perhaps no greater culmination to a Hollywood film career than being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars (even if, these days, it doesn’t even come with a lousy on-air acceptance speech…maybe that Robert De Niro episode at the Golden Globes scared off the Academy once and for all). Just ask this year’s recipient, Francis Ford Coppola. But after all that hard work in Hollywood, all the false starts (One From the Heart, anyone?) as well as the successes (too many to name, but I’d have to go with Captain EO), the accolades and the press, and adaughter following in her father’s large footsteps, turns out Francis Ford Coppola might have been better off making his fortune another way — at least when it comes to paying estate taxes (good thing he has that winery).

As an estate planning lawyer, I can confirm that Benjamin Franklin was right about the only things certain in life being death and taxes. Inevitably, I must inform clients who start sentences with the phrase “if I die…” that it really ought to be “when I die.” (Apologies to those readers who are offended by my morbidity. You may replace the word “die” in the sentence above with the death-related euphemism of your choice. For celebrities, I suggest “go to that great Starwagon in the sky.”) And taxes are no less inevitable: as the law stands, even those lucky authors who come up with an immensely successful creative work (screenplay, television series, book, song, etc.) and have the good sense to transfer ownership of it during their lifetimes can still get hit with an estate tax bill on their copyrights when they die.

How does that make sense, and what can successful creative types do about it? Let’s discuss. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Q&A: I’m a Non-Union Writer, Will I Eventually Get WGA Benefits for My Script?

Q: I’m not a WGA member. I’m writing a script for a company that’s also non-WGA. I hope that at some point the project gains some traction and gets set up at a studio or other WGA signatory company. I’ve been told that if I am classified in my agreement (with the non-WGA company) as a “professional writer,” I’ll be able to get the WGA benefits if the project eventually winds up with a signatory. Is that true?

A: One of my biggest problems with people is that they tell you things. Take my parents. They told me that Santa Claus was a real, semi-obese man living in the North Pole. They also told me that the mall Santas are really Santa’s elves that have dressed up like him so that they can gather information and bring it back to the real Santa. And I believed them. Then one night after I lost a tooth and put it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy to pick up, I woke up to find not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a tutu, but my dad crawling on my floor with a dollar bill in his hand. After initially thinking he may have just gotten lost on the way to Jumbos Clown Room, I realized that the whole darn thing was a sham; Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and probably even Cal Worthington. Continue reading the full story . . . »