Barbara M. Rubin is a partner in the law firm of Peter, Rubin & Simon, LLP. Barbara began her career as a teacher and has since worked as an executive at production companies and networks, in both television and film. I recently had a chance to speak with Barbara to discuss talent, the Supreme Court and managers v agents.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you get involved with the HRTS?
-I started out as a Social Studies teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. My students persuaded me to go to law school, which I did while I continued to teach. My first law job was with a litigation firm in Century City representing lawyers who were sued for malpractice. It was not my favorite type of work, but I managed to attach myself to a case that had an entertainment component to it. I won that case in court and then realized that maybe this is the area of law I should pursue.
I had no industry contacts, but I had grown up around the Beverly–Fairfax area, attending Fairfax High. And so when I got my first entertainment law job in the early 1980’s at CBS Television City, I felt at home.
I am a new member of the HRTS, but for many years I attended HRTS luncheons as a guest of all the companies for which I had worked. When I co-founded the law firm of Peter, Rubin & Simon, LLP nearly three years ago, one of the first things I did was to become a HRTS member. Being at a HRTS luncheon reminds you that you're part of an amazing community. It's like a work-related reunion each time: you remember that you are not isolated, that you are part of a whole wonderful industry made up of extremely smart people—many of whom you’ve worked with, or negotiated with, or lunched with. Each time I attend, I run into someone I haven't seen in years, but I feel like I still know them well because we have been in the trenches together.
Q: Why did you decide to form your law firm in 2006?
-I spent many years running or working in Business and Legal Affairs Departments. I’d been at CBS, Disney, Spelling, Rysher, and A&E. In 2003, with the help of my colleague, Kyle Stewart, I hung out my own shingle. The corporate world had been a wonderful training ground, but my sympathies were really with the talent—with the creative side of the business. I decided to put my in-house corporate expertise to the service of writers, producers, actors and small production companies in television, film and new media.
When we started Peter, Rubin & Simon in 2006, the time seemed especially right for a different type of entertainment law firm, one that has the qualities and friendliness of a boutique and at the same time features a range of specialties found in the larger firms. As it happens, my partners have also had extensive in-house experience; Arnold Peter worked at Universal Studios, Jody Simon at NBC and our newest partner, David Tenzer, was long an agent at CAA, while Gary Raskin had effectively been General Counsel for several independent film companies. Besides representing talent and small production companies, we also have expertise in film finance, labor and employment, litigation, theme parks, product placement and sponsorships.
Q: Any thoughts on Marathon v Blasi, and how it affects general relations between managers and their clients?
-The decision is, without a doubt, something of a victory for managers. The days of talent using technical violations on past shows in order to escape their current financial obligations are over. But this case highlights the occasional inconsistency between law and reality. Everyone knows that managers procure employment. They have to! Agents don’t have the time anymore or the resources to fully represent a neophyte or to craft and develop her career. In those early stages, managers do indeed help talent get jobs. With this ruling, talent cannot use the argument that their manager’s early procurement of employment should negate the manager’s receipt of commissions due when stardom hits. To a certain extent, the California Supreme Court thus lessened an incongruity between law and reality.
Q: What are the most important considerations when negotiating a writer’s deal and how are they different in TV versus film?
-First, let me say that I have enormous respect for the show runners in scripted series television. They not only have to create a successful pilot but they must execute and consistently deliver 22 mini movies based on their creation in less than a year with spectacular production values. I believe that some of the best written material around today can be found in dramatic series television.
The most complicated part of any writer’s deal is to make sure that all the revenue streams are accounted for and properly triggered. However, because the very nature of a television series deal involves derivative works - complicated separated rights - as well as production services, there is a distinct level of complexity in such deals. Because of the diverse revenue streams, it's important when negotiating such deals that you don’t miss any revenue stream and have the best possible triggering events in place for your writer.
Q: You also represent new media companies, how are things looking for this sector over the next few years?
-We are all getting used to the fact that new media in some form is here to stay. When it comes to original programming for new media, the question becomes how can deals be structured in a simple and fair way for all parties?
New media is a remarkable vehicle for discovering emerging talent. However, when it comes to using the services of proven creative talent, the rub between the talent and the studios centers around ownership and control of the upside of the created product. Talent may be willing to accept reduced upfront fees if, in success, they can control their product on different platforms and significantly participate in the financial rewards. The studios, on the other hand, are naturally reluctant to enter into deals whereby their rights are diminished in success. For a time, this will result in complicated negotiations and complex deal structures and paperwork.
By the way, Strike TV (which we do not represent) has adopted a different and promising model for new media original programming. Bypassing the studios and their resources, they create new media product by teaming up with proven guild talent, promising them both creative control and a significant financial upside. It will be interesting to watch how this business model evolves.
Still, for many the end goal of the new media platform remains to become recognized in the old media. Proven creativity and production values still count. And, when you merge high level creativity and production values with home based entertainment, for the foreseeable future you are still talking about network primetime television!