Talent

[Ed. Note: Today’s post opens up our week of Oscar coverage. On a Friday. Who are you to judge our calendar-related choices? Drop by next week for more posts addressing all the burning, tangentially Oscar-related questions you probably never thought to ask!]

At 14 years of age, Hailee Steinfeld is this year’s youngest Oscar nominee, receiving the nod for Best Supporting Actress for her role asMattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of True Grit. With her huge role and Oscar recognition, it appears as if young Hailee owns Hollywood at the moment. But who owns Hailee?

Child celebrities have long taken the world by storm, and while their personalities (and, sometimes, their egos) can seem larger than life, we often forget that they are still just children. As such, they are not masters of their own domain. Justin Bieber may be able to make young girls the world over cry on command, but just like every other child in America, the Biebster needed his mom’s permission before cutting off his iconic mop.

The age of majority in most U.S. states is 18. Until then, kiddies, mommy and daddy functionally own you. They control where you live, where you go to school, who you can hang out with and pretty much every other aspect of your life. On rare occasions, children become “emancipated minors,” meaning they break hold from parental bondage, usually by getting married, joining the armed forces, or going to court to ask for their freedom. Until you turn 18 or emancipate yourself, however, your parents control whether or not you can work, including acting and singing. And that has significant implications for child stars like Hailee Steinfeld.
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Supermarket tabloids compete with each other in a lot of ways. Who can attract the most readers/eyeballs? Who can come up with the most misleading headline? Who can stretch the definition of “news” to the most absurd degree? But one of the strangest and most downright disturbing areas of competition among tabloids has to be, who can be first to out a celebrity?

In many instances, well-known entertainers have been driven into public revelations about deeply private aspects of their lives after relentless speculation and intrusion from aggressive tabloids and their dubious “sources.” In 2006, ‘N Sync alum Lance Bass finally came out of the closet after years spent hiding his sexuality to appease his female fans and strategic handlers (and the world was duly shocked). Clay Aiken, who rose to fame after placing second on that little show called American Idol, waited until becoming a father to publicly disclose his sexual orientation in 2008. And last year, Latin heartthrob Ricky Martin ended years of public scrutiny and speculation by announcing to the world that he is “a fortunate homosexual man,” forcing an immediate public reevaluation of the lyrics to such modern classics as “Shake Your Bon-Bon” and “She Bangs.”

Lance, Ricky, and Clay decided to come out on their own terms (notwithstanding the slight nudge [read: “very, very forceful shove”] from the Hollywood gossipmongers). But as Law Law Land superfan/mother to our very own Rachel Wilkes recently asked us, what would happen if someone in the know publicly outed a celebrity before that celebrity was ready to do so themselves? Could the furor over that celebrity’s sexual preferences move from the gossip rags to the courthouse docket? Let’s take a look at a recent example.
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Q: How do I create a document to attach myself as a producer/actor to the writer of a pilot/show that I am going to present to a big time TV producer?

A: My two-year old has just turned two, my one-month old has just turned one month, and I’ve just turned grey. Before you attach yourself to this show, think twice about having kids. Think three times. I can change a diaper literally in my sleep in the dark with both hands tied behind my back. Here is what I want you to do: take off your shoes and socks and as if kicking a 50 yard field goal stub your pinky toe against a brick, twice. It has little to do with your question, but I haven’t slept since the BP oil spill started and I just want someone to pay. [Ed. Note: This post was originally written in June 2010. The jokes are dated. But the wisdom is timeless.]
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In a recent episode of CBS’ The Good Wife (which this blogger will go ahead and admit she loves, particularly for its disciplined realism — because obviously, all fresh-out-of-law-school first year associates get to try murder cases by themselves), Zachary Florrick (the teenage son of the title character) was pressured by ne’er-do-well vixen Becca into setting up a fake Facebook page in the name of a classmate. (Another reason I love this show: gives me an excuse to use the phrase “ne’er-do-well”.) Not coincidentally, this classmate was the teenage son of Zach’s dad’s opponent in the race for State’s Attorney, Glenn Childs. Zach also created a video mocking the third candidate in the State’s Attorney race, while making it look like the video came from Childs.

In the show, hapless Zach’s actions resulted in harm to his father’s campaign: what he thought was a harmless prank was taken by the Childs campaign as a declaration of war from the Florrick campaign. But thanks to a new law on the books in California, the real-life ramifications of such actions may now be even more serious — to the tune of monetary fines and prison time.

Effective January 1, 2011, California Penal Code section 528.5 makes it a crime to impersonate another person online. Specifically, “any person who knowingly and without consent credibly impersonates another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person is guilty of a public offense.” Violation can result in a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000 — plus a civil lawsuit from the aggrieved party. Of course, because our readers are all fine, responsible, upstanding citizens, I’m confident that none of you need to fear this new law. But let’s say you, too, were a dastardly ne’er-do-well (twice in one post!) embarking on a campaign of Internet impersonation. What would you need to know?
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Over the past several months, my husband and I have been listening, along with our eight-year-old daughter, to the Harry Potter books on audiotape. (By the way, even if you’ve read the books, you owe it to yourselves to buy/download/rent the audiobooks — Jim Dale totally rocks). We are currently in the final stretch and are more than half way through Book 7; we also have a family pact that none of us will cheat and continue ahead unless the whole family is in the car together, collectively slogging through L.A. traffic and ready to listen.

Of course, I’m bouncing off the walls, dying to know how the story ends — who wins, who loses, who lives, who dies. (Okay, stop jeering…yes, I am the only person on the planet who doesn’t know what happened at the end of the series. And thestatute of limitations on spoilers has long since passed. I get it. But pretty please, find it in your hearts not to ruin the ending for me by posting it in our comments section.) [Ed. Note: Instead, please enjoy this collection of unrelated outdated spoilers: Bruce Willis was dead the whole time. Vader is Luke’s father. Dil is actually a dude. It was earth all along. Soylent Green is people. Norman’s mother is dead.] Of course, if I was a cold-hearted mother and wife, I could keep listening or even just fast forward to the end, just to find out what happens. Don’t worry, I won’t — because I promised (and because my commute is less than 5 minutes).

Serendipitously, the recent internet chatter surrounding Pink Floyd’s dispute with EMI coincided with the timing of my Potter predicament, and it got me wondering: are my familial contract and my motherly moral compass the only obstacles precluding me from jumping ahead and listening to the last track of the CD? Could J.K. Rowling herself somehow dictate the order in which I read/listen to the details of her story? Pink Floyd apparently thinks so.
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With weeks of double-page “For your consideration…” ads in Varietyand The Hollywood Reporter finally culminating in yesterday’s Golden Globes nominations announcement — about which I have nothing to say other than “at least 3, if not 4, of the nominees for Best Comedy or Musical are neither comedies nor musicals…I mean, seriously, The Tourist?” — Hollywood’s awards season has officially kicked into high gear. As a fan of TV, movies, pop culture, and pointy-headed overanalyzation in general, I’ve always enjoyed awards season (minus the extra traffic congestion that comes from living down the street from Grauman’s Chinese and the Kodak Theater).

Sure, maybe us entertainment lawyers seldom make it into the acceptance speeches (damn agents get all the credit). And certainly no one has ever memorably crowed “you like me! you really like me!” to a studio director of business and legal affairs. (If Spielberg would have won for Jaws in ’76, maybe he’d have thanked his lawyer, Bruce Ramer — after whom Spielberg supposedly named “Bruce,” the mechanical shark featured in the film — but unfortunately for the entertainment legal community, Spielberg never made it to the podium. I guess Spielberg himself might have been a little bummed about it as well.) As it turns out, though, the apparently legally-cursed Globes represent the one awards show whose recent history has provided several opportunities for us entertainment lawyers to get in on the awards season fun.

(Given the economy, I suspect lawyer voodooists trying to drum up business. J’accuse.)
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Driving to work on Friday morning, I happened to be tuned to KROQ and heard a story about a video of Miley Cyrus going to town on her favorite piece of smoking paraphernalia. Although Kevin, Bean, Ralph and company were reveling in what seems to be the rapid downward spiral of another teenage superstar, it occurred to me that, ever since Seth Rogen and James Franco’s daring “did-they-or-didn’t-they” promotion for stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express during the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, celebrities have become increasingly open about their use of a certain medicinal/recreational herb.

First, Olympic hero Michael Phelps was photographically compelled to admit to “engag[ing] in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment” (but which made for greatjokes about Phelps’ Olympian lung capacity and munchie-induced 12,000-calorie-a-day diet). Then Zach Galifianakis memorably — and hilariously — illustrated the subject matter of the California Proposition 19 debate on Real Time With Bill Maher. Now Miley and her “tobacco water pipe” — full of what her reps say was merely the California-legal hallucinogen salvia(and our eyes roll now) — has prompted one blogger to agonize over whether she or Phelps is “the bigger idiot” (spoiler alert: Miley wins).

Perhaps neither Miley nor Zach realize that Proposition 19 failed, but marijuana use remains illegal in California. In fact, depending on the quantity of cannabis in a person’s possession, it can still be prosecuted as a felony. So the obvious legal question is: could a celebrity caught smoking dope on camera be prosecuted? The short answer is, theoretically, yes…but don’t bet on it actually happening.
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Congress is set to vote on middle-class tax cuts. President Obama is pushing to extend a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. And yet, stories about a wave of recent celebrity divorces continue to take a lion’s share of the headlines. After all, who can think about nuclear arms treaties when it’s over for Eva and Tony? Yes, you heard it here last: Desperate (Ex-)Housewife Eva Longoria Parker and her Spurs star husband Tony Parker are getting divorced. They join the ranks ofChristina Aguilera and Jordan Bratman, Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, and Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, in what can only be considered a dark time for Hollywood and a boon for Hollywood divorce lawyers. Personally, I don’t really care. Although divorce is generally sad (or happy depending on how bad the marriage is), I don’t know these people. I seem to be in the minority, though, as many spectators seem to get as emotionally involved as the divorcing couple itself. Newspapers and websites everywhere are filled with stories of how Longoria filed for divorce amidst rumors of Tony’s infidelity.

Longoria’s divorce papers cited “irreconcilable differences.” This is a common ground for divorce nowadays, serving as a generalized “this just ain’t working” reason for ending a marriage. It wasn’t always so easy to call it quits. In the old days, you had to resort tobeheadings or breaking away with your own new religion in order to part ways. Even in the United States, it was fairly difficult to get a divorce for many decades. The modern concept of “no-fault” divorce — the notion that there doesn’t need to be a “wrong” by either the husband or the wife in order for the marriage to dissolve — took some time to develop.
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Your average litigator has a standard checklist of issues to ponder before filing a lawsuit. Considerations such as whether the defendant has had enough minimum contacts within the judicial forum, whether one has alleged sufficient facts to state a claim on which relief can be granted, and what to get for lunch at the courthouse coffee shop when dropping off the complaint usually predominate the lawyer’s thought process. But because being a good entertainment lawyer sometimes means being a public relations guru, any litigator who is preparing to file a lawsuit touching on the entertainment industry — or on any topic likely to capture the public’s attention, and thus media interest — must take into account an entirely separate list of considerations if the lawyer is going to do his or her job properly.
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Let’s play a little game: think of the best movie you saw in 2006, but don’t say it out loud (and I hope you don’t blindly follow those plebeians at the Academy). Now let me guess…(cue think music)…I’ve got it! It was National Lampoon’s Pledge This!, starring Paris Hilton, right?

Wait, what did you say? You didn’t see that movie? Impossible.

How could you resist this comedic gem which features Paris as therich and sexy leader of the Gamma Gammas at South Beach University? Come on, they were voted America’s hottest sorority by FHM magazine, and the misadventures that flow from winning that fictional title are undeniably scintillating.

And surely you must have been aching for more Paris after her star turns in Bottoms Up andHouse of Wax (the equally unforgettable The Hottie & the Nottie came later, of course). Unless…aha! I think I know what the problem was — Paris just didn’t do enough to promote the film. If only she would have hit the press circuit a little harder, there would have been a wildly successful theatrical release, and you would have ran out and dropped $19.99 for your own personal copy.

Although the above scenario may sound silly, it pretty much sums up the basis of the lawsuit brought against Hilton by the film’s investors, the troubled Worldwide Entertainment Group. Worldwide sued Hilton in the Southern District of Florida to recover the entire $8.3 million cost of the picture for Hilton’s alleged failure to fulfill her contractual obligation to do “reasonable promotion and publicity” for the film. The lawsuit essentially blames the film’s failure on Hilton’s alleged refusal to agree to several foreign interviews and publicity requests (not mentioned in complaint: insipid story, terrible production, god-awful writing, worse acting, etc.), claiming that Worldwide relied on Hilton’s future promotion of the film when it spent $8.3 million. Thankfully for actors and lovers of legal sanity alike, the Court rejected Worldwide’s theory as “entirely speculative and unsupported by the facts.” But, the Court did give Worldwide the opportunity to prove which portion of Hilton’s $935,000 producer’s fee was paid in consideration for Hilton’s promotion of the film’s DVD release, and last month, preliminarily valued that amount at $160,000.
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