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My unconventional experience in the entertainment law industry

Entertainment Law

Most rising 2Ls and 3Ls interested in film or television entertainment law go for the most coveted business and legal internships in the U.S. – like with Disney, Lionsgate, or MGM. But this summer, I worked for an independent multi-media production company in Dallas, Tx., and I would not change my experience for the world.

Before getting this position, I applied to dozens of internships all across the country. But with a flooded job market, I knew that it was time to get creative to get the experience that I craved.

I was thrown into the fire with a business I had no previous experience in, but I used this to my advantage because I was willing to learn whatever it took to solve the company’s problems. I read Mark Litwak’s “Dealmaking in the Film and Television Industry” over one weekend and came to work prepared. I learned quickly to say yes to both legal and non-legal new experiences. I went out on nonprofit projects where I pondered legal issues such as securing location permits. But I also learned how to set up professional cameras, microphones, and lights.

Essentially I worked as an in-house counsel, assisting the executives in the company with general legal decisions in business, tax, and intellectual property law. One of the major industry-related skills I learned was the art of negotiating and when to use your leverage. I assisted the CEO with drafting and negotiating hundreds of thousand dollars in commercial contracts with the SyFy network and assisted with reviewing contracts for a full-length documentary in partnership with Alta Loma Entertainment, a subsidiary of Playboy.

Aside from contracts, I was able to make meaningful contributions to the production company – in a room full of executives with more than 20 years of industry experience – because I was able to think quickly on my feet. Often times, since I was the only individual available with legal experience, I was asked my opinion on business and tax questions.

One of my final projects consisted of advising the production team on corporate structure, specifically whether or not they should establish a for-profit or non-profit LLC for an upcoming documentary. I weighed the pros of starting a for-profit by valuing the assets the corporate sponsors such as Adidas and Under Armour would bring to the table, but I also looked to the IRS tax codes to weigh to the lucrative tax benefits of starting a non-profit. This project was the perfect practical experience to all of the case law that I studied in my Business Associations class.

My point is that not every job task is going to have a perfect answer, but just like the hypotheticals on our final exams, our job as attorneys in the real world will be to look at all the angles and come to the most logical conclusion.

At a structured internship someplace else, I may not have been exposed to the variety of experiences that I was able to receive this summer in Dallas. So I encourage all students to keep pushing through whichever internship you get – and remember you can always make the best lemonade with a few sour lemons.

Sheila Spence Sheila Spence is a third-year law student at North Carolina Central University School of Law. She is a council member of the North Carolina Bar Association Sports and Entertainment Law Section and the co-event chair for the Sports and Entertainment Law Society at NCCU. Outside of her legal career, she enjoys going to the movies, trying new restaurants, and spending time with her family.