Most people are lucky to see one or two movie stars during their lifetimes. Richard Levy sees them all day long. And these aren't washed up B-movie stars, either. They are the Hollywood elite--Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, to name just a few.
Levy, though, is not a celebrity stalker--he's the general counsel of International Creative Management Inc. (ICM), one of the world's largest and most prestigious talent agencies. The firm represents everyone from movie and TV stars (including the ones listed above) to writers and musicians.
It's Levy's job to oversee this entertainment empire from a legal standpoint, which entails providing advice to the talent agents, working on acquisitions, managing the firm's intangible assets and handling any litigation. He also is responsible for overseeing the agency's business-development strategy, which gave him the opportunity to spearhead a major refinancing of the business in 2005. He also managed ICM's 2006 acquisition of The Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, a literary agency that represents creators and producers of primetime shows such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Law and Order: SVU."
In the short time since he joined ICM in 1997 after a brief stint at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Levy has risen from being just another attorney in Los Angeles to become one of Hollywood's most powerful legal advisers.
Q: What do you do all day?
A: I wear a lot of different hats. But I am often involved with contract negotiations with employees because most of our executives are under contract. I also deal with inquiries from agents who have legal-related questions. But I don't advise agents on how to negotiate client deals. We have a business affairs division that does that.
Q: Are most agents lawyers?
A: Many are, but it's far from a job requirement.
Q: Have you ever worked as an agent?
A: I've done a little bit of it in some very discreet areas over time. But there are very different skill sets needed for that job.
Q: Whom did you represent?
A: Dennis Rodman. It was an isolated situation. We don't usually represent athletes on their on-the-field endeavors. I functioned as Rodman's certified
Q: So when do the agents turn to you?
A: It might be a situation where there is a dispute between the client and the buyer [such as a movie studio] over whether or not a contract has been formed. And while we would try to get the client some independent legal counsel to guide them in that, I often get the first call to analyze what those situations might look like. In addition, business affairs executives often want a litigator's perspective on things before retaining outside counsel.
Q: Do you have contracts with the talent?
A: Some have written contracts, some are at will. The relationship is governed, however, by our agreements with the various guilds, with the exception of the Screen Actors Guild, where we don't have an agreement. Then it's governed by custom and practice.
Q: Do you get involved in negotiating those contracts?
A: I do. But those contracts aren't negotiated that much, other than maybe side letters, because they're all pursuant to form agreements that have been agreed upon or approved by the state or by the particular guild.
Q: ICM has just started producing movies, too, right?
A: We aren't actually producing movies. We're arranging financing for movies, and we're selling off the territorial rights to movies. We're integral to getting independent films made and produced, but we're not the actual producers.
Q: What is the industry's reaction to that?
A: There have been questions about whether a talent agency's involvement in raising financing and representing clients in that capacity creates a conflict of interest. But without our involvement our clients wouldn't have as many opportunities as they do.
Q: You have some unique employees working for you. Does that create issues?
A: The talent agents have a unique combination of creative and business skills, and that creates a very dynamic and exciting work environment. From time to time that leads to challenges in terms of balancing their business and professional skills with their creative skills, but the workplace is very professional compared to the perception of it--which is that it's like HBO's "Entourage." It's not.
Q: Is it a competitive business?
A: It's hypercompetitive. There is a defined talent pool that exists out there. It's obvious that there is always new talent that is being discovered, but everyone knows who the current A-listers are and who the up-and-comers are. And everyone is competing to represent them.
Q: Do you ever get tired of working in "the business"?
A: I'm really fortunate because I've got a wife and family that keep me grounded. We live in Hidden Hills, which is far away from where most Hollywood stuff happens. I love the fact that I can drive into Beverly Hills or Century City everyday and be part of Hollywood and then go home on the weekends and get away.
Q: Do you still get excited when you see a famous actor?
A: My interaction is much more from a professional, business standpoint as opposed to a fan-based standpoint.
Q: What's the strangest issue you have had to deal with?
A: There was a right-wing radio show in L.A. [The John & Ken Show] that told their listeners to call us to protest the celebrities who were coming out against the Iraq war. We started to get phone calls from a lot of whacked-out folks. And some of these folks were saying some disturbing things and disrupting our business. So I wrote a cease-and-desist letter that asked the station not to give out our contact info on the radio.
Q: Did it work?
A: No. They made an entire three-hour radio show about me and my letter. They kept reading it every 10 minutes and giving out my name, fax number and e-mail address. It sounds funny, but some of the messages I got were death threats. After that I knew that any attempt to fight them was just going to bring on more temporary pain for me, and I let it go. It was pretty bizarre.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I am a huge baseball fan. I have been playing in a men's hardball league for the past eight years. I was invited to play on the team by former Congressman Mel Levine. It's kind of a mixed bag of folks on the team--actors, lawyers