Last year we interviewed Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Eric Weissmann in the Q&A “Take Your Violin and Go Back to Vienna!” for Southern California Super Lawyers magazine. What follows is part of the discussion that didn’t make it into print.
You represented a lot of directors in the 1970s. Back then, directors seemed to have more creative control. Have they lost creative control, and, if so, did you feel it slipping away from your clients?
I think there are still directors who have what is called final cut: the Martin Scorseses of the world and so on. But I think that what has happened was there were some movies that went overbudget.
Including one by one of our clients.
You notice I didn’t mention a name.
And I think that began the wave against the control of the directors. But I think there’s ebb and flow. First studios were powerful, then actors were powerful, then directors were powerful, and then actors became powerful again, and now special effects are powerful. It ebbs and flows. And I think there’s going to be a reaction against these tent-pole pictures because you can’t just make movies for only 13-year-old boys. There’s an older audience out there. So you see a movie that does surprise you-last year, “Blind Side,” without special effects. It’s a fluid industry and you can’t predict what’s going to happen next.
Since we’re talking changes, what are among the biggest changes you’ve seen in entertainment law in your career?
One change is in the copyright law. The copyright used to be 28 years-and if the author died during the first 28 years then the renewal went to the heirs. Now the law has changed: life of author plus 70 years.
Another change is all the new inventions: television, cable, digital, 3-D. The technical changes.
And international has become bigger.
Speaking of international: You were head of worldwide business affairs for Warner Bros. in the 1970s. Any stories from that period?
Well, I remember we were at the home of the chairman, who asked what kind of movies should we make. Somebody said, “I just read the galleys of ‘Jaws,’ and it’s kind of what you want: ‘Poseidon Adventure,’ people in the water, some get killed, there’s excitement and so on.” Somebody said, “How much would it cost to buy?” and somebody said, “$350,000.” And somebody else said, “Aw, shark, who gives a shit?”
And that was the end of “Jaws” at Warner Bros.
Next Monday: Part II with Eric Weissmann: the privileges of being a non-voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.