Talent

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.
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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”)?
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Celebrities have a lot of influence over modern society. They influence how we dress (hey celebrities, can someone put an end to the unflattering skinny jeans trend, please?), how we talk (or had you not noticed your frattiest coworkers repeating “that’s hot” and “winning” ad nauseum), how we dance (who started this fist-pumping thing, anyway?), the way we vote (or whether we vote at all), and what we buy. Not surprisingly, companies take advantage of this bizarre phenomenon by paying celebrities to promote their products. For example, football great and ladies’ man Joe Namath showed off his shapely gams to endorse Beautymist pantyhose in a silly commercial, supermodel Heidi Klum strangely decided to lend her name and face to a fat-free fruit candy, and Oprah’s multi-sector Midas touch is so potent she has an “Effect” named after her.

Occasionally, a company might incorporate a celebrity’s quote into an advertisement to hype a particular product or service. For instance, the late suit designer and proprietor of “the most expensive store in the world,” Bijan, teamed up with the uber-expensive Rolls-Royce in a partnership that Bush the Elder (that’s right, George H.W. Bush himself) describes on a Santa Monica Blvd. billboard as “[a] class act designer partnered with a class act car.” It is probably safe to assume that Bijan/Rolls-Royce obtained permission to use George Bush’s name and quote on that billboard (and if not, I know a good lawyer). But, because we live in a world where people do not always ask for permission (or otherwise abide by the law), this billboard made me think about the limitations on using a celebrity’s quote in an advertisement.
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Q: I’ll keep this brief to avoid boring you to death. From my understanding, a pay or play agreement means an actor will attach themselves to the project, but if the film never makes it to production, at least the actor will still get paid. So basically, it’s an arrangement that will permit an entertainment professional to attach their client to a project with confidence by assuring the actor that at least they will get paid.

A: Avoiding boring you to death has never been this blog’s goal. Yet, it effortlessly fails to achieve it on a consistent basis, week in and week out. Setting goals in life is a mammoth mistake and a recipe for failure. The only way to achieve all your goals is to have none. This blog had no goal, direction, or purpose of any kind. But look at us now — we’re bigger than U.S. Steel and Huffington Post. This blog is so tremendously influential now that every word I type sends trepidations down my spine, up my brain, and sideways to other places. None of it was planned, deserved, or earned. How can something so lackluster, mediocre, and banal be so successful? You can ask the same rhetorical question about your boss or Jay Leno. C’est la vie.
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Ever wonder what it’s like to be so famous that people who look like you can make money just by acting like you? We’ve all heard of stunt doubles. And most of us have seen the movie Dave. But not everyone is familiar with the phenomena of professional celebrity impersonation and the fun legal issues associated with it.

In this edition of Leggo My Likeness, we’ll take a look at 6’8” Michael Fanter of Antelope Valley, CA, who reportedly charges up to $600 per hour as a Pau Gasol impersonator. (For the record, the real Gasol — power forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, just in case you actually need that information — is listed at an even 7’, so I’d look for a $100-per-missing-inch discount.)

The Double Take

One of the two pictures below is Pau Gasol. Can you guess who it is?

(Read to the bottom of the post to find the answer, after some deeply insightful legal analysis about Fanter’s work — do not scroll without reading!)
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Even before Natalie Portman won her Best Actress Oscar for her role in Black Swan, critics and audiences alike were buzzing about her disturbing performance as a dedicated-but-delusional prima ballerina. Recently, however, the discussion of Portman’s performance has taken a turn towards the controversial, as Sarah Lane — an American Ballet Theater soloist and one of Portman’s Black Swan dance doubles — has emerged with allegations that Portman did just 5% of the full body dance shots seen in the finished film.

Lane claims she is the victim of a “cover-up” by the filmmakers. Although she commends Portman for trying “to go method” and losing “a lot of weight” for the film, Lane blasts her single’s dancing (if Lane is Portman’s double, doesn’t that make Portman Lane’s single?), saying Portman didn’t look “at all” like a professional dancer and couldn’t even dance in pointe shoes. Lane’s comments came just days after Portman’s choreographer-slash-baby-daddy Benjamin Millepied boasted to the Los Angeles Times that Lane did only a very minimal amount of dancing in the film and that “Honestly, 85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” Since Lane made her “5%” claim, however, the film’s producers, director and co-stars have come to Portman’s defense, with director Darren Aronofsky issuing a statement yesterday saying that of the 139 dance shots in the film, 111 — or, 80% — are Portman untouched, and when you consider screen time, 90% of the dancing is Portman.

Even if all the “did she or didn’t she” discussion surrounding Portman’s Oscar and dance performance misses the real issue — namely, that this should have been Annette Benning’s year — it did get me thinking about the use of doubles in film, and what potential legal claims actors and their doubles might have when situations like this arise.
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By now, I’m sure many of you have seen the Old Navy commercial starring Kim Kardashian Melissa Molinaro, a curvy, dark-haired Kim Kardashian lookalike who bursts into song and dance while looking “super C-U-T-E” in her Old Navy duds. Like many of you, I did a double take when I saw this commercial for the first time. Upon closer examination (read: once I caught a glimpse of the star’s normal-sized backside and nimble dance moves), I realized the star of the commercial was not Kim, but just a woman with a striking resemblance to the reality TV star/fashionista/walking proof of the decline of Western civilization.

After the commercial first aired in February, articles devoted to Old Navy’s use of Kim’s spitting image popped up all over the Internet. Molinaro herself has called the comparisons to Kardashian “extremely flattering” — but of course, who’s to say whether Kim herself would agree? So, naturally, upon first viewing Molinaro’s commercial, the lawyer in me immediately thought, “Can Kim sue Old Navy for using her lookalike in a commercial without her permission?” Then, the blogger in me thought, “I should write a blog about this!” (Then, the normal human being in me thought, “What have I become?”) So, let’s see if the law is on Kim’s side.
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Living in Los Angeles (and the world, really), it’s nearly impossible to miss any news about Lindsay Lohan. This will certainly be true again come Friday, as Lindsay makes the latest in her seemingly never-ending string of court appearance (this time, in connection with charges that she stole a $2,500 necklace from a Venice Beach jeweler). You might expect that, as a lawyer, my observations about the proceedings will be focused on all the legal wrangling and/or nuanced issues of law. But it doesn’t look like there’s anything particularly legally interesting about Lindsay’s situation, and — like every other media-watcher in America — I’ve been conditioned to instead watch Lindsay’s monthly courtroom visits with a keen eye for the fashion.

No, it’s not that I saw a story about Lindsay’s courtroom fashion choices on Access Hollywood. … Okay, maybe I did see that story on Access Hollywood (a gal’s gotta relax after a hard day’s work somehow). But even “reputable” news outlets like CNN and the Los Angeles Times have been no less obsessive about the sartorial elements of the Lohan legal drama.

Terrifyingly, I have sometimes found myself agreeing with Lindsay herself in thinking, “Who cares what she wears to court?” But the reality is that courtroom fashion choices can represent a considered element of legal strategy — and are even subject to specific judicial rules.
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[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.
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[Ed. Note: Law Law Land’s non-calendar-compliant Oscar week continues, as Brian Berman returns to explore the fates of all of those little Oscar statuettes that were handed out during last night’s show.]

Los Angeles was lively over the weekend as Hollywood’s finest took the stage at the 83rd Academy Awards. Hollywood’s best, brightest, and most recognizable are always out in force for Oscar weekend. But perhaps no figure shines brighter than Oscar himself (although it’s not actually fair fight, as he is gold-plated).

Standing tall at 13 ½ inches and weighing in at 8 ½ pounds (that’s just over 0.6 stones for our British friends), Oscar’s gold-plated metal figure is recognized the world over. As with any Hollywood star, “Oscar” is just a stage name. Oscar’s real name is the “Academy Award of Merit.” Also, Oscar is technically a “statuette,” not a statue. And for last night’s winners, he might also be their new best friend.

But what if a winner wanted to get rid of his or her Oscar? Maybe he or she needs to raise a little extra money to pay those Ferrari lease payments and Dom Perignon bar tabs. Maybe he or she wants to give a friend or family member a token of his or her love. Or maybe he or she is just weirded out by a naked knight staring at him or her.

It is hard to imagine anyone getting rid of an Oscar, but, for argument’s sake, let’s say that someone wanted to. Could he or she do that?
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