Digital Hollywood Content Summit Review - The Art of the Deal

The Digital Hollywood Content Summit, held at the spectacular Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marina del Rey, was an event presenting many of the top voices in Hollywood production and media.

A View From The Spectacular Ritz Carlton-Marina del Rey

Featuring a comprehensive four-day calendar of seminars and panel discussions, the well-attended event provided a thorough overview of the state of the film, television and new media industry.

In my opinion, the unique nature of this conference was the fact that the industry, and therefore the subject matter being discussed, is shifting quickly and dramatically. I was struck by how many questions remained unresolved by the panel members. However, I do not believe the lack of assured panel-member responses was in any way an indication of ineptitude--most of the panel experts were extremely generous and clearly at the top of their professional game. Instead, I believe the industry as a whole is in a tremendous period of reorganization and flux...and much of what I witnessed at the conference supported this message.

Given my dalliances in writing and production, I chose to attend, and focus this article, on The Art of the Deal: Pointers, Advice and Hands-on Tools from Master Negotiators.

Mediated by entertainment lawyer and talent manager David Tenzer, this forum’s panel included Susan Brooks, EVP, Business Affairs, FishBowl Worldwide Entertainment, Stuart Boros, and Michael Tenzer, SVP & deputy General Council, Business and Legal Affairs, Comedy Central &

The discussion began with a discussion of the structure of hollywood deals and the contractual interplay between content creators, producers and networks.

A key point that was mentioned near the end of the forum, but seemed to be a major theme throughout, was the panel’s unanimous agreement that there is a menu of 1000+ ways that a deal can go down. From a deal-making standpoint, I was struck by the variety of possibilities and combinations of factors that must come together to create a successful series. Clearly, this is not a game for amateurs.

Obtaining a shopping agreement verses an “if come” deal, rights agreements, the important decision; signing with a show-runner or production company, “locked for life” deals, ensuring the rights and the deal are entirely in place and the importance of network approvals, were topics discussed and defined by the panel.

The dialogue then turned to the subject of how to properly register written content. While the more well known ways and means for registering content (WGA registration, Copyright, mailing the content to yourself, etc.) were discussed, an agreement was never reached, between the panel and the audience, as to which method is the “best.”

As the forum continued, the discussion shifted to the construction and timing of the Hollywood deal. One idea that was emphasized by the panel was that the size of the producer in the deal ought to determine how tight or loose an agreement should be. The message here being that a larger producer would warrant a more tightly constructed deal. This makes sense from the network’s point of view as producers are far more equipped to structure a clean (mistake free) deal. One panel member stressed that it’s better to do do one deal with a production company as opposed to doing four different deals with the unprepared or uninformed talent. The audience was reminded  that the production company is on the hook for everything while the talent is generally only interested in their deal.

This, however, leads to another interesting aspect of the Hollywood deal; the production process from written content to series.

The development of a network series has many steps: the pitch, timeline development, the casting tape, creating budgets, proof of concept (i.e. 8-minute segment of what the show looks like), ordering a presentation, ordering a pilot, and the ordering of the series.

The panel emphasized that this whole process can take up to 3 years which can destroy the timeliness of a “topic-sensitive” series.

To this point the panel offered some useful suggestions to the content creators in the audience:

1. Have the talent, rights and agreement in place.
2. Shorten the development time frame by offering either a presentation or proof of concept (but not both).
3. Make sure all players in a deal are known. If there are surprises in the deal (i.e. an extra producer), the network may balk at paying extra which could create chaos or, at minimum, a reworking of the budget.
4. After the rights have come together and your deal has been sold, if the network wants to change the deal, it’s important to determine if it’s a financial issue or a control issue.

An additional topic that was discussed by the panel was if and how a “progress to production clause” ought to be implemented in a given Hollywood deal. The answer to seemed to echo the theme of the forum...there is a menu of 1000+ ways a Hollywood deal can go down.

And, when asked if there are any good books on the subject of Hollywood deal-making, one panel member responded with the advice that the best way to learn is experience and reading the trades.

William James
October 24, 2013

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