The possibility of labor strife crippling the entertainment industry was the dominant topic of conversation at Variety’s Power of Law breakfast, presented by City National Bank on April 20 in Beverly Hills.
The event honored veteran entertainment lawyer Craig Emanuel, of Paul Hastings, and celebrated those profiled in Variety’s Legal Impact Report, which recognizes attorneys for their work in keeping the media and entertainment business humming.
Claudia Eller, chief production officer for Variety, opened the event with a Q&A with Erica Huggins, president of Seth MacFarlane’s Fuzzy Door production company, to talk about their expansion in the industry. Immediately, the conversation shifted to the possibility of the Writers Guild of America going on strike next month. Huggins admitted she believes a work stoppage will happen, though she hopes it won’t.
“I think that there are a lot of smart people at the center of this wanting to not cause a lot of pain, you know, and both sides need to come together to figure out how to move forward quickly,” she says. Fuzzy Door is taking precautionary measures to get important scripts in time. McFarlane is at the center of Fuzzy Door operations, and Huggins says he does nearly everything. His varying interests make the company appealing to a wide-range of audiences, and has allowed Huggins to not feel “siloed” as she once did. A number of upcoming projects can speak to that, including a “Ted” television show, a series adaptation of Norman Lear’s “Good Times,” and two other series “Shrouded College” and “Naked Gun.”
Damon Lindelof, writer-producer and one of the industry’s most in-demand showrunners, was far less certain and emphasized that working WGA members do not want to put down their pencils. The veteran of “Lost,” “The Leftovers” and “Watchmen” sat down with Cynthia Littleton, Variety’s co-editor in chief.
“I don’t think a strike is inevitable. Not because of anything that I’ve heard or anything that I know. But I just, I feel that these things are driven by emotions, particularly from a writer’s standpoint,” Lindelof said.
He also talked about mini rooms and pilots, and how these two things are shifting and changing within the industry. In his opinion, there are less pilots being made, which means less opportunities to test the waters of a show before going all in. “There is this kind of feeling of like you get to go on a first date and if you want to strangle each other at the end of it, you probably shouldn’t get married,” he says. As for mini rooms, he thinks they’re fine, as long as no one is being exploited and writers are being “compensated accordingly” for their ideas.
Variety honored Paul Hasting’s Craig Emanuel, an entertainment lawyer who has contributed to the entertainment business for decades. Presenting the kudo was director, writer and producer Ryan Murphy, who has been a client of Emanuel’s since 1996, long before his star took off which such hits as “Glee,” “American Horror Story” and “Lone Star.” Because of Emanuel, Murphy says he never reads his contracts. “I trust him with everything in my life and he has never once steered me wrong,” he said.
Emanuel accepted his award and gave thanks to many people, including colleagues, journalists that have written about him, his assistant Julie Jones and his family. His philanthropic efforts during his career as a lawyer are appreciated by many, like his work with Chrysalis, which works to bring the unhoused in the Los Angeles area back into the workforce, and the Faith & Politics Institute on Capitol Hill, which works to foster civility and dialogue in government conversation.
Emanuel ended his speech urging people to value their time and use it to create a better world for themselves and others, something he has strived to do throughout his life, working late nights and always being just a phone call away.
“My hope and thought for all of us as we go through our daily lives, that we spend a certain amount of time thinking about the things that are truly important in society,” he says.